Refine Your Search

AofA People: Janet Kelly – Writer


7 Minute Read

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

Where do you live?

Brighton

What do you do?

Writer

How do you feel about being this age?

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

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

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

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

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

What about sex?

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

And relationships?

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

How free do you feel?

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

What are you proud of?

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

What keeps you inspired?

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

When are you happiest?

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

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

Where does your creativity go?

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

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

What is your philosophy of living?

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

And dying?

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

Are you still dreaming?

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

What is a recent outrageous action of yours?

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

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


7 Minute Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary Wellington (on social media as Ginny Rawson)

Nottinghamshire, May 2022

My book A King’s Sanctuary can be bought at

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

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

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/

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!

Show me more
Surprise Me

Hear more from us

Subscribe to our newsletter