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Daughter and Mother – Ruby, 56, interviews Maria, 95


7 Minute Read

Ruby Millington is a journalist, zeitgeist expert and great cook. During the lockdown, her mother Maria, 95, moved in. In fact, they came to my family Boxing Day Funk Up this year. Recently, I asked Ruby if she would interview her incredibly glamorous mother about how it is to be her age.

 Maria MacLaren was born in Devon in 1925. She was in the ATS during WWII and worked as a secretary for the Southern Electricity Board Consultative Council until her marriage to John in 1959. She has two children, Martin and Ruby.

R: When did you first feel you were ageing?  

M: At 80. I’ve never been afraid of physical work but I realised I could no longer dig the garden, wheelbarrow bricks or walk long distances. My eyesight was deteriorating with macular degeneration and I began needing cortisone injections for arthritis in my hands. I feel my hands and eyes are just 49% of what they were and it’s frustrating because I always liked to be busy. But that’s not to be now and I just have to accept it and feel lucky that I can sit back and be cared for. Not everyone has that. But don’t forget I looked after your father during the last years of his life, pushing him around in a wheelchair, so I learned a bit about what was coming my way. And my life is very enjoyable now. You’ve taken me into your home and we’ve had a lot of fun and done many projects together. And I’m in the fortunate position of knowing that Martin and you would do what you think best for me. I don’t feel I’ll suddenly be abandoned and that gives me a feeling of peace and security.

R: What are the important lessons you’ve learnt over 95 years?   

M: My parents taught us from an early age never ask or expect people to do for you what you can do for yourself. And never be afraid of hard work. Most important has been believing in the goodness of others. That certainly made me a better person than thinking everyone was horrible and I hope I continue believing that till the end of my life. During my last stay in hospital, for example, a few people were stealing surgical socks and abusing and threatening the nurses and yet the staff treated those patients just as well — lovingly really — as they did the rest of us. That’s stuck with me. It reinforces that most people are decent, caring and kind.

And I’ve always tried to look on the bright side, to be optimistic and make the most of life.

R: You do always seem bounce back very quickly. And you never brood or sulk. Is that a factor in your longevity?  

M: Very probably. I’ve had ups and downs but I geared myself up to put them behind me and get on with life. I was very close to your grandmother and when she died in 1991 and when John died in 2004, those were very dark days. My sixties were another low point. Something was missing. Although I was happy I felt there was more to life than dinner parties. I feel there are more positive things going on around me now, especially being here. And I’ve been very touched by the kindness of your friends too. I feel involved and part of something.

R: I think it’s crucial for old people to stay engaged. Most people want to feel recognised and valued and accepted. You used to say you were still learning every day. Do you still feel that?  

M: Definitely. My education wasn’t as bright or helpful as it could have been but 80 years ago it was considered adequate. I’d hate to stagnate. I’m constantly learning — thanks to you mainly because I’ve learnt a tremendous amount through being here, about the world and about myself. I’ve never used a computer, for example, but the internet has changed my life with shopping online and Instagram, eBay and Zoom. I’ve learned lot about you too. You’re very vulnerable and caring and supportive and very, very willing and not afraid of hard work. You’re not the tough nut people always thought you were.

R: I can’t imagine anyone would ever think that about me.   

M: We didn’t know you. You were away from the age of 17 and then you lived abroad. So I feel I know you much, much better now.

R: What about disappointments or regrets?  

M: I wish that John and I were younger when we married but then, as you know, he was married to someone else and we were carrying on an affair for ten years. It was out of our control. And it’s no good looking over your shoulder.

R: That’s one of your favourite phrases.  

M: Well, it’s true. I always look forwards.

R: You still buy lottery tickets every week! What are you looking forward to now?  

M: Christmas. Or the summer at least — seeing your garden progress, the vegetables coming to life. If you don’t look forward to the seasons you’re pretty well done for. I feel I have everything to look forward to, being part of life here. I look forward to all my meals and my walks and even just planning my outfits. I’ve always tried to keep myself looking good and been interested in fashion. It’s not vanity. I dress to please myself although it’s always good to bear in mind what other people might think and I was often stopped by strangers in the street who’d comment on how elegant I looked. Now little things give me a lot of pleasure. Some flowers, a new ornament to look at…

R: Do you feel that over 95 years you’ve had any control over what’s happened to you?  

M: A little bit. I’ve never had to worry too much about material things but life hasn’t all been plain sailing. Obviously you can’t control everything that happens. You know the old saying: Life is what you make it. I think that’s very true. I’m grateful for having a life at all.

R: But what if someone can’t make life what they want it to be?   

M: Lower your expectations. Like Jo Brand said when I heard her at Christmas. But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t keep striving. Hope is the one thing that keeps us going.

R: I’m sure you thought it would be business as usual for the rest of your life and never imagined a pandemic would happen.   

M: I knew life would be very, very different and it has been for the whole world. I remember being very frightened about what would happen to me when they said the over 80s should stay indoors, alone, for three months. But then you said I should come here. I was also terrified about the number of deaths and the lack of ventilators and how the NHS would cope. I was frightened, not just for myself, for everyone. If I’d been on my own I’d probably be dead now.

R: You think so?   

M: I’m sure so. I would have been so frightened and so lonely it would have been the end of me.

R: So when people talk of losing the will to live, it’s not just a figure of speech. You can will yourself to keep going?  

M: A lot of it is luck. I came from good hardy stock on both sides. I’ve inherited good genes and lived a fairly privileged life. But quite a bit is attitude. My advice is try to stay healthy, have a target and find something to look forward to, whatever your age. I know the future might not be great for me but it doesn’t stop me hoping.

 

 

AofA People: Joolz – poet, novelist, artist, illustrator and tattooist


6 Minute Read

Joolz, 66, is a poet, novelist, artist, illustrator and professional tattooist. She came to prominence in the 80s when she was often called a punk poetess and was instrumental – Justin Sullivan, the lead singer was her partner at that time – in the rise of New Model Army. She’s still writing, painting, drawing and expressing her opinions from her base in Bradford

Where do you live?

I live in the same house in Bradford I’ve lived in for 35 years. It’s an end terrace in a hidden cul de sac in a very poor area but by chance has a large garden with trees. It’s extremely untidy and full of stuff and art materials. It’s very comfortable despite being in disrepair.

What do you do? I’m an artist, writer and tattooist, although I’m semi-retired from tattooing because it’s exhausting work. I have my own studio and set my own rules so I don’t have to get up early or any of that nonsense. I spent my whole adult life working at night either on tour with the band or just because I like it and it racks me off when people say ‘not up yet?’ I probably didn’t go to bed until 3.00 am whilst they were snoozing at 9.00pm. I’m sure it’s lovely to see the sunrise and I often do, just before going to bed.

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

I will be 66 shortly. My current joke is ‘one six short of the Beast’ which no one finds funny but me. Life is a see-saw – when you’re young you have all the energy and no wisdom, in middle age, it’s 50-50, now it’s all wisdom and naps. It’s frustrating my body which was always fit and strong is still strong but less fit and I live with the constant pain of arthritis in my knees due to motorcycle accidents and the sports I did but hey. Everyone has something wrong with them. I don’t put up with bullshit and I speak as I find, so people try and pigeonhole me as a grumpy old woman but I’m not. I’m half in this world and half in the other world so I see things much more clearly than I did.

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

Insight and courage, I was a very damaged and hurt girl, I suffered serious sexual and physical violence, decades of abuse and bullying – now I understand and despite the legacy of CPTSD and depression, I’m actually much more liberated and free than I was. At 25 I didn’t have knowledge that I didn’t need anyone else to be happy. Now I like people well enough but I don’t need them.

What about sex?

I have a partner who’s 30 years younger than myself and extremely good looking. All my bits are in working order. It’s not a problem. I don’t lack for suitors either, but that’s their gig, I’m not bothered.

And relationships?

They have been extremely problematic in the past and I’m shit at them, I just take it day by day. I don’t expect the traditional holding hands in the twilight of our year’s stuff now. I had years of domestic abuse physical and psychological so I’ve seen the worst relationships can bring and I’ve also seen the best. I think people expect too much of their partners sometimes. They want a mother, father, sibling, best mate, nurse, counsellor and lover all in one and that’s a terrible burden to put on someone else. Just look at them as a person like yourself with problems like yourself that you’ve entered into a partnership with so you’ll each have someone to be close to over the years and never ever marry someone you couldn’t spend two weeks in a two-man tent in the Lake District with.

How free do you feel?

Extremely free. No one tells me what to do and I won’t be shouted at by anyone. I do as I like and make what I like.

What are you proud of?

Surviving. Being successful in every career path I’ve taken. Being a hard worker and researcher. Loving people. Loving my cat Scout. Having nice grey hair.  The garden.

What keeps you inspired?

Absolutely everything. Every day is a revelation and brings fresh insight. I’m not even kidding or bullshitting. Just keep your eyes open it’s all out there.

When are you happiest?

In bed reading with Scout lying beside me. Scout is a 9kg male Black Smoke variant Maine Coon cat so it’s like having a dog that purrs. We love each other. I feel safe, warm and comfortable and can dream of other places, places I’ll visit when we can travel again.

And where does your creativity go?

Into everything I do and am.

 

What’s your philosophy of living?

I don’t think too hard about that. Don’t get wound up about small stuff. Tell the truth and shame the devil. Stand up for what you believe in but question everything. You don’t get owt for nowt so be prepared to pay the price. Love with all your heart, if the loved one turns out to be shit that’s their karma. Women should always have money of their own and men should give up trying to control everything. Children are our most precious resource, don’t spoil or hurt them. Don’t use children as props to your ego or weapons against your partner. Respect your Elders, you don’t have to like them but they gave you life. Be polite.  Swear if you feel like it. Let your hair go grey and be proud of it because it’s two fingers up at Society that says we should be ashamed of being old.

It’s just part of the journey. We all die. I’ll make an end of it myself if I’m too ill to go on with dignity like my father did. At least I hope I’ll be that brave. There’s nothing to fear in dying, just try to do as much as you can prior. Think of it as the end of the summer holidays and that bright shore waiting.And dying?

Are you still dreaming?

Every day.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

My entire existence is an outrage to many so I don’t have to do anything special.

Why Conscious Breathing Does it For Me


7 Minute Read

You realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind

( Eckhart Tolle Practising the Power of Now)

Conscious breathing and meditation/mindfulness are becoming more popular, and even more so now, as we look for ways to manage challenges of isolation and lack of connection during lockdowns.

I have been practising conscious breathing for over 30 years, first as part of my yoga practice and then as a yoga teacher. Conscious breathing allows me to feel more present, more grounded. I feel more connected to myself and to others. It also gives me a rush of energy which I channel into my writing and other creative projects. It helps me to focus, set goals and achieve what I want. Feeling better about myself, I then feel more confident in what I’m doing and stronger in my convictions about what matters to me. At the same time, conscious breathing brings gentleness.

In my first yoga training, I meditated at 5am and 9pm every day and felt a strong sense of peace. Life on an ashram lends itself to this pure practice. Back in London, I found it hard to maintain a regular practice, as do many of us, for lots of different reasons – boredom, my to-do list, that pointless anxiety for the future or the past. I needed to rediscover that peace within my busy life of commuting, teaching in sometimes challenging situations, such as prisons as well as making time for my writing, theatre-making and yoga. I needed a stress release and at the same time, the energy and confidence to keep going with all these things. Because traditional meditation is about just sitting and watching the mind, it felt like too much of a contrast to the busyness of my life, whereas in conscious breathing, there is a focus – something to do and to think about so it works better for me. It enables me to deal with some of the blocks that I put in my way and helps me to find a more regular practice.  

Conscious breathing is a series of exercises that teaches us different ways to manipulate the breath. There is a simplicity in their execution, and yet complexity in the science in which they are grounded. For each exercise, we focus on the inhale, the exhale or the retention of the breath, and sometimes all three. We increase oxygen or prana to our brain and this makes us feel good. As we become more conscious of the breath, we become more conscious of ourselves, more present, more aware and we’re all trying to be more present in life. Breathing consciously connects us to our conscience! Some say that this is our soul or the Divine and that connecting with the Divine is the key goal of pranayama.

I first experienced conscious breathing in Sivananda yoga practice as pranayama: The vital force. Prana is life, vitality, energy or strength. Ayama means length, expansion or restraint’ (Swami Sivananda)

 

And BKS Iyengar writes that pranayama teaches us to ‘Regulate the breathing, and thereby control the mind. . . It cleanses and aerates the lungs, oxygenates the blood and purifies the nerves’ (BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga)

As a theatre practitioner, my yoga practice was already feeding into my rehearsal room; in voice classes, as we worked on the breath; also in physical theatre classes where I was inspired by Grotowski who had used yoga as part of his practice. We all learn from each other. When I was made redundant from the Royal Court Theatre, I was hugely disappointed but, finding myself with an unexpected gap in my career, I set off to Sivananda HQ to do the teacher training and began the journey that brought me to teaching, first yoga and then conscious breathing.

I continued the Sivananda style of including some conscious breathing at the start of class in my yoga teaching. Sivananda teachings say that we must not overdo the pranayama, we need to keep a balance. I understood this but I still felt we could do more with it. I wondered if, instead of being the introduction to the class, the conscious breathing could become, as it were, the main event.

And so in 2019, I completed the first-ever training of Altered States: The Breath. The course was inspired by both Hatha and Kundalini yoga; by teachings around addictions plus it refers to breath experts such as Wim Hof. I learnt how to manipulate the breath to:

1 Change how I feel.

2 Increase the flow of ‘positive’ hormones in the body leaving me feeling uplifted, with a sense of calm and well being.

3 Decrease ‘negative’ hormones, leaving me feeling calmer and less likely to react when stressed.

4 Increase breath capacity.

How amazing to be able to create stillness and calm by increasing dopamine; exhilaration by increasing endorphins and positive feelings of well being by increasing Serotonin; this in turn improves digestion and sleep and we enter a more positive cycle.

At the same time, we decrease adrenaline and cortisol that we only need in high levels when we’re in real danger, of say, being eaten by a lion whilst out hunting!  Globally there is a huge increase in stress levels. This sometimes leads to greater reliance on addictive substances and poor mental health which can add to the sense of fear, so our bodies produce more adrenaline and we are in a negative cycle. By slowing down the breath we shift from this fight/flight mode.

To begin we release the vagus nerve, the biggest nerve in the body, which runs from the brain stem through to the guts. This resets the nervous system, it ‘powers up’ the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the hormonal flow to shift. The exercises build breath capacity which improves the health of the lungs, heart and  digestion. Reducing stress in the body has the same effect, so there are clear physical benefits as well as positive feelings of well being.

Some of the exercises are simple versions of what we all do naturally. I do one with my mum who has dementia. Others require greater concentration – and it is this focus that is freeing from my overthinking, chattering mind.

Crucially, we pause after each exercise as, to quote Grotowski, ‘It is what happens in between the exercises that counts. . .’ This is the stillness and focus on the present moment and we ask ourselves ‘How am I feeling now?’, having asked it at the top of the class. Usually, there is a noticeable shift. At the end of the class we lie in silent relaxation, then again we observe how we are feeling in our bodies and minds. I love how my yoga feeds into my theatre work and vice versa. I am constantly developing my practice and currently feeding in some movement from my theatre practice. This keeps it fresh and brings a sense of playfulness and creativity.

One of the best things about conscious breathing is its accessibility. I can do it literally anywhere: in bed the moment I wake or the last thing before sleep; whilst walking in nature or at my desk, in my garden or park. I hope to be able to do it again on a beach somewhere. I love how I can check in with myself and decide what I need, which techniques will help me today; and I love how naturally it comes. After all it is an extension of what we do from the moment we arrive on this earth, to the moment we depart – breath.

Laura is offering a free taster 40 min session plus a Q&A on April 29th at 8am on Zoom.

You can contact Laura on lauramccluskey@btinternet.com for further information and to sign up.

AofA People: Tim Hutton – multi-instrumentalist/producer/songwriter


10 Minute Read

Tim Hutton, 59, is a multi-instrumentalist (self-taught guitarist, bassist and drummer as well as a brass and piano player) producer/songwriter. He’s toured with many high profile bands like Dexy’s to Fela Kuti, Groove Armada to Amy Winehouse and Prodigy plus written songs and recorded as a vocalist or instrumentalist for several others.

What age are you?

59 and a half. As I approach each new decade for some reason I start straining at the bit, only to arrive there, cast my eye around and wish I could leave. Next year I’ll be thinking about subtracting at least five years off in answer to this question. Seriously though, I feel kind of relaxed about being a 60-year-old. It’s the new 40 – maybe I’ll achieve the kind of gravitas we were originally all supposed to get when we hit that age.

Where do you live?

I live in Leeds. I met my lovely now ex-partner, with whom I have a nine-year-old son when I was in the middle of a tour in 2002, and we had a night off in Leeds (I was living in London then, as I did for 30 years). I made a lot of friends that night and used to love visiting for fun times. Eventually, about five years later we properly got together, and as I was at a kind of crossroads with things generally at the time, and it wasn’t an option for her to move down, I made the move up. We ended up living ten miles out of town in Guiseley and I absolutely hated it. We however loved each other and had a son, which gave me a very concrete reason to be up there, and when we split up, very amicably, I had the opportunity to move back into the centre of Leeds, which was always what I liked. I’m an urban kind of, um, spaceman. I’m very happy about my new situation there, which I’ve been in now for nearly three years. I’ve been looking after my son a lot of the time this last year, it’s been fabulous.

What do you do?

I’m a musician – songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, arranger, producer. I do productions and sessions from my set up at home. I play live and tour with an array of bands, most currently being my band Doghouse Derelicts, of which more later; Dub Pistols, which I’ve been part of for 20 years now, and play mainly brass but sometimes bass or guitar live and all 3 on recordings. Above and Beyond, whose acoustic/semi orchestral tours I have played on without exception over the last 10 years, taking in venues like Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood Bowl and Sydney Opera House and playing the trumpet, trombone, French horn, guitar, keys, tuned percussion and vocals (they call me the Octopus); and also Red Snapper, for whom I’m playing the odd gig (when they happen) playing the guitar, and I travel wherever needed for other sessions and writing gigs. I’ve got writing/singing/playing credits with people like the Prodigy, Ian Brown, Amy Winehouse, Groove Armada, etc.

What’s it like being your age?

I’m finding this upcoming shift into my seventh decade quite profound, slightly terrifying and kind of beautiful. I’m starting to feel very differently about my place in the world, and how I go about things, how I handle and present myself, and how I’d like to be remembered. I’m being forced, this time, to think about eating and exercising correctly through likely impending type 2 diabetes, following my dad and his dad before me at roughly the same age – it’s yet to kick in though so I think I can do loads to offset its arrival. I also seem to be totally reappraising my approach to being in relationships (I’m not in one) and what I want out of life in that area.

What do you have now what you didn’t at age 25?

On a material level, it’s the means and knowledge to create fully produced music on my own equipment – something very few people could achieve when I was that age, and also clearly very useful to me, and something I fantasized about in younger days, and on a personal level an awful lot more confidence and sense of self than I had then.

What about sex?

Sex is taking a back seat for me right now. I’m not really communicating with the sexual part of myself – at all – through active choice. I was an absolute hound for sex and drugs on tour and off for a good couple of decades and I just need to give the whole thing a rest, and it feels great, and incredibly energising. I don’t think about sex at all when I’m alone. I appreciate a pretty girl when I see one but that’s where it ends. I guess lockdown has something to do with it, but I welcome it.

And relationships?

Since splitting with the mother of my 9 year old, I’ve had three very short-lived relationships, all of which ended with the feeling that I would just prefer to be on my own. I’m not saying I’ll never be in one, but I don’t want any more of that type of brief and ultimately disappointing scenario, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my own company so I’m not going to be persuaded without being absolutely steamrollered by an incredibly deep and beautiful connection with someone. I look forward to that happening, I just don’t expect it any time soon.

How free do you feel?

Personally, I feel very free. The freedom to do what I enjoy and am good at in order to survive; and the freedom to be the person I am, or want to be. The one proviso to this would be Brexit, which seems to be disastrous for touring prospects in Europe so far – the source of a significant chunk of income annually, up to now.

What are you proud of?

Mainly my boys. My elder two have turned out to be such lovely and capable people whom I really admire, who have both pursued careers of their choice in and around music (I tried to warn ‘em haha!) – my eldest Jake is a sound engineer and drummer who works with Edwyn Collins and others (he engineered David Gray’s last album) and Liam has been a pro drummer since a very early age and has a string of credits to his name (also Edwyn, plus Neneh Cherry, Mabel, and a constantly growing list of new bands and producers), and my youngest is just incredible – so talented in any direction he chooses, but he’s only nine so has yet to set his course, and I’m not pressuring him – but he loves performing, is very musical, very literate, quite sporty, and so comfortable in front of a camera in a way I just wasn’t. He amazes me every day.

What keeps you inspired?

People I meet and spend time with, changing circumstances keeps me inspired and on my toes, movies and books, new and old, familiar and unfamiliar music, instruments and players; and a little bit of mild (not skunk) weed. I don’t drink and I’ve stopped everything else.

When are you happiest?

When I’m with my boys.

Where does your creativity go?

Probably fairly obvious by now I’ll have to say music – I do also like writing, and want to write a book sometime before I expire – but I haven’t really found an outlet for that yet, or given much time to it. My mum was a writer, with the pen name Barbara Whitnell, and was prolific, and I’ve inherited some of that urge for sure. Her Dad (whom I never knew) was a keen musician, and that’s the bug that got me.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Treat everyone as you would be treated yourself, and find what it is you want to do, and pursue it doggedly. Don’t be put off by fear of the consequences and playing safe if that’s what you really want to do, be serious about it and go for it – the rewards will be great. Ok, I’m a single 60-year-old man living in a flat in Leeds, but don’t judge…

And dying?

Death is looming large for me at this very moment, as my Mum died last week…I don’t fear my own death at all, but I fear the deaths of those I love. However, for my Mum, it was a blessed release in many ways, and she was in no discomfort at the end – and suddenly she’s no longer the small, helpless, isolated old thing she’s been for the last year, unable to speak the words she wanted to after a stroke four years ago, she’s gone but suddenly in our hearts and minds she’s the person she was in her prime again, and we can forget her trials of the recent past. I guess I’ll say that death is inescapable, and part of life for us all. I don’t know if there’s anything afterwards – the science-minded will say definitely not, but consciousness itself hasn’t been properly located anywhere in the brain, so…if there is, wow! If there isn’t, I shan’t be bothered, clearly.

Are you still dreaming?

Oh god yes. I’m dreaming like a mf most nights, usually, there’s a festival, a gig, a party or my kids in my dreams, and a lot of repeating themes – one being that there’s an amazing gig I’m about to do, but I either can’t get to the stage, or I do and I realise I don’t know the parts, or I’m not plugged in, and usually the gig never gets started. But I’m also still dreaming in terms of ambitions in life – I have dreams for my boys and me, – and Doghouse Derelicts, the band that I started seven years ago with my northern dwelling, bass playing compadre in the Dub Pistols Dave Budgen. We have started at last attracting interest from people offering opportunities to take it where we wanted to – we haven’t played the industry game at all, concentrating on creating and releasing tunes and playing live (when we can), and finally people are coming to us. Our dreams are big, and we’re worthy of them.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

Hmm, tough one…I haven’t done much outrageous stuff recently – my last outrageous action was about 15 years ago, when I knocked a ridiculously overzealous bouncer out onstage at an Ian Brown gig in San Francisco, and a picture of me looking like Muhammed Ali (I’m very far from it!) ended up on two pages of the NME! More recently I’m afraid I’m struggling to think of anything. I’ve done some outrageous long-distance drives after gigs on very little or no sleep, that I wouldn’t advise anyone else doing. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got or all I’m saying…

Irresistibly Drawn to Work in a Recording Studio Down The Road Aged 59


9 Minute Read

Michele Kirsch, writer, wit, asthmatic isolator, mother of two, furloughed chef wrote about Lockdown 2 for AofA and it was brilliantly funny. Here it is. Now she’s onto the next one, and a new enterprise has arisen.

Of course, by the second lockdown, after the confusing tiers for fears, the novelty had worn off. I was well over the glorious government approved and subsidized slacking of getting paid to NOT go to work. At first, my furlough payments were looking kinda handsome as my employers had forgotten to take off tax and National Insurance, but suddenly remembered, and took the lot off as soon as I returned to work. This was after two months of going for long bike rides in desolate London, trying to remind myself that that ghosts of the civil dead might not actually all be dead, but watching telly, in their flats, on furlough, swearing at Joe Wicks and waiting for the ice cream van, just like me. The vast emptiness of London I initially adored, now just felt abandoned and, like me, waiting for something to happen.

At home with the cat

It was so stinking hot; I could barely breathe.  I’d get home from work, run a cold bath and lie in it with bra undies on. Then, chilled to the bone for about five minutes, I would lay on the bed, briefly blue with cold and looking halfway dead. In no time I would be unbearably hot again, and swearing at England, which was clearly breaking the summer rules, of being chilly, by New York standards. I had done many New York summers, and they all felt like this: unbreathable, unbearable, and slow-mo. Nothing was going up except the temperature, and the death count. The manic gaiety I felt – the joy of small things, was fading fast.

Michele in the bath

Work as a chef had changed, in the lockdown. They were more performance-orientated, all speed and efficiency. Right about the same time, I was LESS all of these things, and older. Very suddenly. When a rating system came up i.e. the better you performed, the more hours you got, I came second to last. It was A SIGN. I had spoken to my ex vicar (I have at least as many ex vicars as ex-husbands, but I am very fond of this one) who told me something would happen but not in the way I expected. So I gave notice on my job, thinking Rev Marj, with her Bat phone to God, would make sure nothing very bad happens to me, even though I was doing this insane and catastrophic thing – quitting a job I did not deplore, but certainly no longer loved.

I kept thinking of a line from a Lake Woebegone story, where the mother of the protagonist, a waitress, keeps saying to her, ‘Oh honey, you coulda done something with your life.’

Well, I HAD done something with my life. I had just temporarily forgotten. In July I won a prize for my book, CLEAN, which gave me some money, and a holiday in a mansion in Sligo, which my daughter said I must take because that’s where Normal People happened, and Normal People was all anybody was talking about the last lockdown. But if I were to take the holiday, I would be locked in the mansion for 14 days for quarantine. Yes, it’s not exactly like being locked in Holloway Prison for a similar stretch, but still, I would want to walk through the bottomlands and pick wildflowers and hang out with young groovy and beautiful intellectuals like the ones in Normal People. The photogenic shaggers, him with his medallion swinging all over the shop. Her with the cheekbones. Not on my lonesome, trying to work out the plot of a novel, and figuring out where the microwave bit of an Aga was located. All that had to be put on hold.

Michele in her mask

Then on Jobseekers allowance, I did every free course available to those on JSA. I was going to re-train to be something useful, not just some withered, wasted form of post-pandemic protoplasmic life. I studied, did modules for coursework and had two job advisors. That bit was a fluke that would never happen in real Jobcentre life, my past experience of that Inferno being dead-eyed, stressed out, shouted at civil servants in Matalan suits, shouting at me, shouting at them, in my Matalan suit. These work-from-home Jobcentre people were nice people, and they seemed to genuinely keen to get me back into work. I’d hear a dog barking in the background. The Jobcentre never had a dog.

I also signed up for Advantages of Age’s own Suzanne Noble’s course, Start Up School for Seniors. Not that I actually had an idea for a start-up, but there was a potential opportunity for something local, that had been started up, dropped as per safety measures during the pandemic, but on the verge of starting up again. It was something shapeless, brewing in my head, but there. It was at a recording studio that I passed most days, as it is about 200 yards from where I live. I was drawn to the place, for reasons not yet clear to me.

While I didn’t attend every session of the Start Up School for Seniors course, I just got into the idea that starting conversations about the thing you wanted to do, was a good thing. It helped me work out what I wanted to do. I already knew WHERE I wanted to do it: at the recording studio.  Everybody who walked in or out of there, or who hung out the front, vaping or smoking, seemed in an impossibly good mood. It had a VIBE. I told Suzanne I wanted to be part of it but wasn’t sure what USP I had to offer.

Now the idea of working in a recording studio appealed to me, because I was in the music biz many years ago, as a journalist, press officer and briefly and traumatically, as a tour manager. I understand people in the biz, how they roll, how pretty much all you have to do, to get ahead behind the scenes, is not be an arsehole. To be useful, to be nice, and to be efficient at modern life. This last bit might take some work, but I was two-thirds of the way there. Oh sure, the business has changed beyond recognition from the days when I was young and green and down the front at some indie gig at ULU, going home drenched in sweat that did not come from my body. This was still in the biz, but more grown-up and desk-based.

Plus, I had been in recording studios, well – twice. The first time was with Killing Joke, and that was the most noise-related fun a gal could have at maximum volume if you discount the two weeks of tinnitus that followed. The second time was many years later, watching The Neville Brothers record some tracks, and that was heavenly, in swampy New Orleans, in an air-conditioned room. Could I put that on a CV? More to the point, could I get a job, the way I did in the olden days, without a CV, just by, er, not being stupid, or a shit? I just wanted to be IN there, doing something. I did this about a billion years ago at my first newspaper job in NYC. I wanted to be IN, so I just walked in and then it kind of happened-the newspaper job. Right place, right time, and willingness. My life coach friends would call it the Universe being ready. I call it being willing to be ready for the next thing, without quite knowing what that next thing would be.

Then, a couple of things happened which made me think Rev Marj had been on the Bat phone to God. First of all, I met the owner of the studio in a book group I had just joined. We got on very well You know those rapid-fire conversations where you just kind of nod furiously in agreement about pretty much everything? It was like that. Then, weirdly, the novel I had started to write was set not quite in a recording studio but around some rehearsal rooms off the back of Carnegie Hall and centred on a music teacher who came from nowhere, to teach piano and singing and meet Stephen Sondheim. Could life imitate this formative art, maybe swapping Carnegie Hall for Hackney Road?

The owner and I got to chatting, mainly on email, and he told me that his second in command had sadly passed away from the vile virus. Not that I thought for a minute, that I could replace her, but I could do some of the jobs that she did, again, using the ubiquitous skills of giving good phone and email, and not being difficult. He mentioned that one of the things that got dropped during the Plague was the educational side of the studios, delivering masterclasses and intensive courses in piano, vocal techniques and songwriting. Was that something I thought I could pick up, help organise, administrate, deliver, publicise? Revive? Dare I even apply for a job that I thought might be fun? Well, yeah!

After a few more emails and some socially distanced walks, I was offered a part-time job, and there was really nothing to not love about it, except an uncertain terror that I might be crap at it. A terror, like most of my terrors, founded on zero evidence.

Now I spend three half days a week surrounded by music, fun people, and a feeling of proper hope, that people will never stop making music and never stop wanting to learn how to make music or be better at the music they make. It’s solar-powered, the people are super friendly, and there is an office cat. The potential bonus is that if something weird or plot twisty happens during my time there, I can whack it into the book.

I thought leaving my job during a time of mass unemployment was probably not smart, at first. But the confluence of the prize money, the book club, setting my novel in a place where people did music lessons, and then getting a job where I would be setting up, initially, music lessons, felt really smart. The longer-term goal is to set up a songwriting academy, get some kind of Brill Building mojo going right in the heart of Hackney. I think it’s possible. I think lockdown 2 consolidated my job goals, and everything else was just kind of intention and good fortune. That stuff counts more than you think.

www.premisesstudios.com/blog/jazz-piano-week

The King of the Streets


9 Minute Read

He was an English vagabond whose name was John.

I’d seen him sauntering through the winding, narrow cobbled streets of Trastevere for all the years I’d lived in that quarter of Rome. Thirty-two years, from 1978 to 2010. Sometimes he disappeared for a whole season and I wondered where he got to and would he ever come back? He always came back.

When I first came across him he was a tall, strong man in his late twenties, I supposed. He had piercing hazel eyes, an uncombed mop of brown hair, and not bad looking, although dishevelled given his lifestyle. From my third-floor window, I would watch him energetically drag a cart topped with rags to the rag-and-bone man, or iron to the iron-monger down my street, who would give him a few coins for his wares. He also collected discarded magazines and books, and I’d hear him mutter in a voice loud enough to be heard by all: “Books are for reading not for throwing away,” over and over again on his way to another customer who might buy something off him.

In time, his back became a little curved and his step became less brisk as he dragged his cart of wares to sell. But eventually, the ironmonger, rag-and-bone-man and others like them disappeared to make way for upmarket restaurants and a plethora of bars advertising Happy Hour drinks in tall glasses topped with little Chinese paper umbrellas, and Giovanni lost his customers

A gregarious man he could often be found lounging on the chipped marble steps of the 16th-century fountain of Santa Maria in Trastevere. He’d get to see a sea of people strolling by or taking the sun on the steps, and engaged some in conversation. His Italian was severely flawed, but he could make himself understood. He liked to flirt with the women who sometimes stopped to chat with him.

In years he became known as the King of the Street, and was well-liked by the clergy and staff connected to the medieval basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

The church has a long tradition of charitable work, and the Christmas lunch in the shaded basilica’s nave, where incense perfumed the air, a cornucopia of festive foods is set on folding wood tables placed on the Cosmati marble floor under 13th century gilded mosaics of saints, cherubs and doves, is a well-attended ritual by the many ragged, the desperate, the maimed and lost. Clustered together they compose a living work of art that mirrors a Baroque painting. As steaming plastic plates piled with pasta topped with garlicky sweet tomato sauce were passed around, Giovanni, as he was known, presided over these banquets as master of ceremonies.

There would even be an occasional piece about him in a Rome newspaper, defining him as the head of the homeless and telling some small story about him.  For days afterwards, he’d proudly show everyone the article.

“Guarda, guarda, sono io,” Look, look it’s me he pointed out in very English accented Italian.

Seasons slipped by. He now had a grey beard, his brown winter coat was in tatters, the navy-blue wool cap he wore when the weather turned cold, covered a mop of salt-and-pepper hair. But always he was cheerful, and, indisputably, still the sovereign of the streets. I didn’t know where his small change came from. He never begged.

The last time I saw him was on the balmy evening of the full moon in April of 2010. He was sitting on the steps of Santa Maria della Luce, a church in Via della Lungaretta. The narrow street, which leads from the main drag (Viale di Trastevere) to Piazza Santa Maria, was crowded with loud Romans, curious tourists, rampaging youths and the ubiquitous gypsies and derelicts: bums, vagrants, beggars on crutches, winos sucking at plastic cups filled with cheap liquor, swaying emaciated junkies with their cluster of dogs. Mingling with the cacophony of human voices screeching bats whizzed overhead.

Giovanni looked eerie and far away in his private world, and hardly his usual jovial self. I’d never seen him in this mood, or state. His hefty calves were bandaged below the dingy khaki trousers he’d pulled over his meaty knees, and infected boils and sores showed over the gauze. He was staring intensely at the huge moon, his eyes were aglow with the fire of insanity. Where will he sleep tonight, I wondered? In a dilapidated sleeping bag placed on cartons under the awnings of some supermarket, as so many of the street people do, or in a crowded dormitory the Caritas charity offered?

Shortly after this encounter, I left Rome

It was a chilly, grey evening at the end of October of 2011. I was on the 91 bus, going home after a guitar lesson at City Lit. The atmosphere on the half-full London bus was tranquil, but then at the next stop, a visible shift took place amongst the passenger as an overpowering plume of an odious pong wafted through the air. A pulse of agitated movement shivered through the travellers. People looked up from their mobiles, The Evening Standard, their babies in pushchairs, their reveries and meditations.

Enveloped in malodour, a heavy-set, grey-bearded man, wearing a navy-blue wool cap over his white hair boarded the bus. Wrapped in an ill-fitting sheep-skin jacket, carrying a stained canvas sack that overflowed with stuff stuffed in plastic bags, he limped past me and sat down next to the woman behind me. She quickly said, excuse me, got up and took another seat at the rear-end of the bus. It can’t be, I must be hallucinating, I thought, and turned around to look at him again, and yes, I recognised him

“Are you John from Rome?” I asked.

“I’m Giovanni, from Trastevere,” he replied firmly.  I got up to sit next to him.

“What are you doing here?”  I asked, astounded. He had to leave, he said.

“I lost all my friends in Rome,” was as much information as I could get from him. He said he didn’t want to talk about it as it was too painful.

I knew that for some years now, Alemanno, Rome’s fascist mayor, had been cleaning the streets and piazzas of the street people. Police swooped down on them, asked to see identity papers and shifted them back to wherever they came from. I suspected that Giovanni had finally been given his marching orders by the Italian authorities also and shipped back to his native England.

He hates London, he said. “You can just die here and no one cares. When my mummy and daddy died they couldn’t have cared less. I was shocked to see how cold and nasty people can be. That’s when I moved to Rome. The people there are warm.”

What kind of mommy and daddy did this man have? What kind of childhood? What brought him to the streets? I can only guess.

With a bitter expression on his timeworn face, he continued telling me how awful it was for him to be in London. “If I don’t die soon I’ll kill myself.” A man who had basked in the Rome sunshine now looked as grey as the London weather.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“In a prison,” he said with scorn. Which probably means one of those desperate hostels for desperate people like him. I’d heard it’s a hell on earth.

“See you in heaven next time we meet,” he said as I got off the bus.

Should I have invited him to my home? Had him take a shower? Fed him? I couldn’t do this; I wasn’t strong enough to take on the mammoth task of befriending him.

I didn’t know what to make of this startling encounter, and later that evening consulted the I Ching: “What is the significance of my bumping into Giovanni?”

Hexagram 8 – Union.

The waters of the earth flow together wherever they can, as for example in the ocean, where all the rivers come.

Giovanni, I think, must be the vagrant in me.

November 14, 2011

Two weeks later Giovanni got on the bus again. This time he recognised me. “I met you the last time, didn’t I?” He said as he sat down next to me; I tried to handle the stench. The young guy who was standing near me moved off. We chatted, again he told me how much he hates it here, how uncaring people are.

He grumbled about the state of things. “We have become American,” he said disparagingly. He complained about the government and the Royal Family. “What good do they do? Do you know how rich they are?”

“In Rome, they have the rich Vatican,” I said.

“Don’t confuse the two, the Vatican is about spirituality, the Royal family is just about making money. What do they do for the people?” He might have another point, I thought and was glad when the bus reached my stop.

April 24th – 2012

On my way home from a visit to the British Museum, I stopped to have a coffee on the terrace of the cafeteria in Russell Square Park. Spring sunrays spilled over the leafy tops of towering plane trees, flowerbeds, shrubs, happy dogs, nervous pigeons and an eclectic array of people sitting on wooden benches around the fountain or sprawled on the green lawns in this oasis of tranquillity. I knew I was privileged to be here.

Then, I made my way to the nearest bus stop, and who did I see sitting there?  Giovanni. I did not want to stop and have another conversation with him; I did not want to hear his unhappy and bitter story again. I didn’t feel that there was anything I could do for him, so I walked to the next stop, got on the next 91 bus, and was relieved he was not on it.

The next time I saw him was from the bus’ window. He was sitting on his own at a pavement café in Kingsway; his canvas sack and other plastic bags at his side.

And then some ten days later, again from the bus’ window, I saw him sitting at an outdoor café near Euston Station, talking to what seemed like another homeless friend.

I was pleased to see he was in company. He was, after all, a gregarious chap.

And again! On a cold afternoon in February 2013, I saw Giovanni near the Angel Underground. What to say?

I am aware that only a thin line separates Giovanni and me, and that there, but for the grace of God, go I

AofA People: Mat Fraser – Actor, Writer, Musician


4 Minute Read

Mat Fraser is a disabled actor, writer, and musician, who’s been in American Horror Story: Freak Show, His Dark Materials, Silent Witness, and played Richard III on stage in 2017. His writing has been sometimes awarded, and recently, published.

His solo show “Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability Was Kept in a Box”, won the UK’s Observer Ethical Award for Arts & Entertainment 2014, and he wrote the ONEOFUS production of “Jack & The Beanstalk”, for which the New York Times awarded him and his director/performer wife Julie Atlas Muz “New Yorkers of the Year” 2018.

Mat was thrilled when BBC Arts commissioned him to curate the series of monologues around Disability, “CripTales”, for BBC 4 & BBC America, also writing & acting in one of the pieces,“Audition.” Mat believes that authentic disabled voices and faces are vital in liberating narrative and portrayal of disability, and mainstream life in Society.

Mat is currently working with a TV company on an anthology of 30 min dramas around disability, written by and starring disabled people. He’s also practising his triplet and quadruplet rolls hard, for that ever-elusive drumming gig.

Age (in years)

58

Where do you live?

On the China Walk Estate, Lambeth Walk, OI! London

What do you do?

Writer,  actor, and occasional these days only, musician

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

Quintupsensually OK, good for knowledge, knowing myself, knowing answers, knowing what to say and do in most circumstances, hard for losing my fitness and superb body, harder work needed to maintain, harder to be relegated to irrelevant by the young without becoming hateful toward them, weird to know you’ve lived more than half your life now… I’ve always totally ignored many of Society’s stupid rules and acting my age is one of them, I just act the age I feel, and I’m still having a ball. Speaking of balls, yes they hang lower but oh boy do I get pleasure from them. Luckily no lumps yet.

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

Knowledge. Money. Dwelling. Experience, marriage & thus consolidated partner happiness, pensions in my sights, an inability to suffer fools gladly, intolerance, a knee replacement, white pubes, scars, gut, a hernia mesh, regrets, resistance bands, a mobile phone, a computer, a shitty Wi-Fi deal with Virgin, an electric toothbrush, arthritis, people skills.

What about sex?

Yes, can’t go hard at it for quite as long as I used to, but still, have lots of great sex….1st lockdown we made a home porno for fun…an urgent sexual response to the weird feelings, but then it dissipated..luckily it has returned for a decent regular sex life, offscreen.

And relationships?

Long term, loving, happy. THE BEST thing about growing older is the amount of time you’ve known your friends, and how much more meaningful those friendships become with time….being a friend online to people alone, important, parents included…

How free do you feel?

Free to be me, unfettered by mainstream opinions, State propaganda, but I’m stiff and in arthritic pain now too so less free in my body.

What are you proud of?  

CripTales, my body, helping other disabled people get work, taking care of my Mum, my black belt when I was 38, my disability and lived experience giving me insight into what others miss, Jeremy Corbyn, BLM, #metoo…

What keeps you inspired?  

My continued need for ever-elusive righteous justice and equality for disabled people.

When are you happiest?

When I’ve just written “The End”

And where does your creativity go?

Scripts, songs.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Try to be kind, question everything you are told, stay fit, enjoy life, fuck the system but cleverly so no one notices, be an agent provocateur at all times creatively, do unto others etc.

And dying?

Yeah well, it’s gonna happen, but I’m trying to put it off.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, of greater achievements, love, and care, a better Society, a Democratic Socialist Government, an Oscar, growing into a really old age with Julie by my side.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

Bottomless Zooms, commissioning 7 disabled writers, scoring £300 worth of weed because of lockdown.

AofA People: Gilly Smith – Author & Podcaster


1 Minute Read

Gilly Smith is an author and podcaster who coaches and works with women in mid-life to help them find their voice. You can buy her book out this week,

How to Start and Grow a Podcast here.

What is your name?

Gilly Smith

Where do you live?

Brighton, UK

What do you do?

I’m an author and podcaster.

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

Blimnin fantastic! At 54, I left the part-time working, child-focussed world and started podcasting. Four years on, I’ve found my voice, am coaching others, all midlife women, to find theirs in podcasting, hosting retreats (pre and post COVI) and my book on How to Start and Grow a Podcast has just come out. Finding my voice in podcasting must have helped my writing too; after writing 15 or so books, I’ve just been shortlisted in the food writer category for the Gourmand Best in the World Awards in June for my book Taste and the TV Chef: how storytelling can save the planet.

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

Where do I start? Voice, confidence, belief in myself, a proper relationship, a passion to change the world and a career that I love and can see growing until the day I die.

And what about sex?

I literally wrote the book on sex, but it’s not until I felt confidence in myself that it really works.

And relationships?

Marriage is a deep dive into ourselves and that’s been a 25-year swim among different universes, only occasionally coming up for air!

How free do you feel?

Once I’m done my lower back reset yoga in the morning – FREEEE

What are you proud of?

Finding myself in my 50s. My girls. My podcasts.

What keeps you inspired?

Family, work, campaigning through podcasting, communicating.

When are you happiest?

Pretty much all the time. I’m a white middle-class mid-lifer living happily, working creatively and keeping warm and safe in a pandemic. How could I complain?

And where does your creativity go?

Into my podcasting and writing, my daughters and my gold walls.

What’s your philosophy of living?

It’s never too late.

And dying?

I read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at an impressionable age. Watching my dad die was one of the most incredible and privileged experiences of my life. I’m cool with it.

Are you still dreaming?

ALWAYS. I also host a weekly Dreamwriting Zoom class with a bunch of mid-life women.

What was a most outrageous action of yours?

I’m not sure I’d call anything I do outrageous although most people dare to ask for most of the things I ask for.

The Culture Interview – Glen Colson, 72, music PR


5 Minute Read

Glen Colson, 72, is an ex-music PR – his clients have included Lindisfarne, Ian Dury, Kokomo, and Elvis Costello. I always remember Glen as a prankster PR who was interested in the ‘craic’ more than the selling of records. He worked for Stiff Records at one point, and re-papered the NME’s editor’s office walls with Costello’s new album cover. He has just published the book of his life as a music PR and typically, it’s called Nefarious. Although I think Glen was more hilarious than nefarious! He’s now more into his bamboo growth… Nefarious is available here – www.glencolson.com

I didn’t realize that your mum and dad ran the Magdala Tavern in Hampstead?

 I lived at the Magdala Tavern for 19 years.  In 1958 Ruth Ellis murdered a racing driver outside the pub and became the last woman in England to be hung. 

And you come from a long line of Kent publicans?

Yes, all my uncles had pubs in Margate.  My uncle Bob’s pub, The Dog and Duck, was the biggest, right on the seafront.  I was born in the Princess of Wales which is opposite Dreamland.

Tell us a bit about drumming and you? How come you didn’t end up as a drummer rather than a PR?

I have been drumming since the age of 10 and had lessons with Frank King, a famous tutor in Archer Street, W1.  The reason I didn’t end up drumming as a career was that I couldn’t find any like-minded musicians in Hampstead growing up and fell into PR at the age of 21 and never looked back.  Only drumming after that for pleasure.

You used to frequent La Chasse, a private members club for the music industry, in the 70s?

The Chasse was a private members club in Wardour Street where the Charisma office would relax after a hard day’s work. It was frequented by musicians and roadies from all the great bands of the day, including Marmalade, The Nice, The Searchers, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Keith Moon, and Stan Webb.

And your tutor in PR, Terry The Pill?

Terry the Pill was a villain who sold pills to the Beatles in Hamburg and then managed Eric Burdon and ended up becoming the fly poster King of London.

Oh and your stay in NYC which included being asked to dance by the great Pattie Smith? Which, of course, was at a party hosted by Frank Zappa in 1976.

In 1976, I spent 18 months living in Manhattan, sleeping on Chris Charlesworth from the Melody Maker’s sofa before getting a job with the rock manager Pete Rudge.  He managed The Stones and The Who.  I had originally arrived from the US to promote a Van der Graff Generator date at the Beacon Theatre. 

Glen Colson
Keith Allen, Jock Scot, Neneh Cherry, and Glen

Tell us a few Stiff tales…

My favourite Stiff anecdote took place when waiting outside the offices for a coach on the 5 live Stiffs tour. 

A robbery took place on the opposite side of the road at the house of Tracey Ullman.  The perpetrator fled along Alexander Street and was pursued by an entire coach load of Stiffs and finally being tackled to the ground by none other than Nick Lowe.  

Who was your favourite behind-the-scenes character in the music biz? 

The funniest guy I ever met in the music business was Tony Ashton who was a Hammond organ player who was originally with the Remo Four from Liverpool.  He later formed on Ashton, Gardener and Dyke who recorded ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ famously covered by Elvis Presley. Tony always drank his beer from the water jug. 

How did you meet Keith and Kevin Allen? And I guess there were a few japes in those years?

I first met Keith when he played the Albany Empire and latterly met his brother Kevin when I intervened in the two of them brawling in a club in Convent Garden.  I ended up waking up the next morning with a black eye for my troubles. I recount many tales of the Allen brothers in Nefarious.

Glen Colson
Andy Paley, Glen, and Brian Wilson

And then there was the spirited, gifted Kirsty MacColl?

Kirsty was a close friend who I sorely miss.

I like your honesty about Trinidad and ‘the local lovely’ who made off with your shoes, shirt and shorts after sex following your claim that you ‘had no cash on you’.

This event took place in a Trinidadian nightclub when I made the mistake of picking up a girl who unbeknownst to me turned out to be a hooker who demanded money from me when we entered my hotel room and then made off with all my clothes when I was sleeping.

And the Viv Stanshall years? You seemed to genuinely like him?

After drumming sting with the Bonzos in 1969, Viv became my mentor who I would work with for the next 25 years.

Although not Ian Dury, who seemed famously tricky?

I worked with Ian Dury when he was in The Kilburns and latterly The Blockheads, although, he could be a very tricky customer who had a wicked tongue.  From time to time I would feel the lashing from it.

I guess I can’t miss out The Warwick in Portobello which is where I know you from. What a place! The characters.

After starting to work with Keith Allen, he introduced me to his local pub The Warwick Castle in Portobello Road. The pub was brim-full of Runyonesque characters, murderers, thieves, actors, musicians, market traders, dustmen, and alcoholics. The landlord, Seamus Costello specialised in pigs trotters and pints of Guinness. 

What are your reflections now on music PR at that time?

I have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever.

And how did you get into gardening?

I have always loved and been fascinated by growing things ever since I planted my first tulip bulb in a window box as a young boy. Many years later I was lucky enough to be accepted as a volunteer at Kew Gardens. After taking an RHS course in Horticulture at Twickenham College, I spent ten years at Kew working in various departments until my retirement five years ago.

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