A refugee during the Second World War to Italy, in 1948 Hanja Kochansky went to Johannesburg as an emigrant. In 1966 she played one of Elizabeth Taylor’s handmaidens in the film Cleopatra. In 1972 her book Women’s Sexual Fantasies was published by Ace Books in New York and became a best-seller. She is currently writing a novel and editing her memoir.
What is your age (in years)?
I’m 82, will be 83 on the Ides of this March.
Where do you live?
In Sheltered Housing, just off the Caledonian Road, in London.
What do you do?
I write. Have just finished a novel about the love affair between two septuagenarians. I’m also re-editing my memoir Now and Then.
Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
I’m much more chilled out now, which is a blessing but find it difficult to cope with the deterioration of my body (my mind seems to be ok.) Legs hurt and I can no longer go for the long walks which once were a pleasure to do. I have also become slightly incontinent, which I hate. On the whole, I find what happens to the body in old age humiliating. But I say to myself, it is what it is and you are so lucky to be in good health (I take no big-pharma medication), so stop complaining. But I do complain. I do not like getting old. Although I’m not concerned about no longer being beautiful and having put on some weight.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
Everything. Beginning with self-confidence. I had a very unhappy childhood living with a violent alcoholic father. It took me years of reading self-help books, starting with Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, which I read when I was already 50, to turn my lack of self-esteem into love for myself. Also, now I’m always given seats on public transport. At first, given that I don’t see myself as old, I found that surprising, but now I’m grateful for it.
What about sex?
I had my last affair, at the age of 72, with a man of 78. It lasted for two and a half years. The sex was good, but he turned out disappointing. I’m pretty sure I won’t be having any more lovers. I still have sexual urges and masturbate, but have no desire for a man.
I’m happy to say that I am constantly making new friends. Mostly they are a bit younger than I am, but no one seems to be prejudiced towards my age. I’m lazy and happy about being at home, but I make an effort to go out and meet people. I love good conversation, and I never hang out with someone who is banal.
How free do you feel?
Totally free, especially as I don’t have to pay rent and am given Pension Credit and a few other perks. This is such a blessing and I wish everyone in need would have my good fortune.
What are you proud of?
My (almost) daily exercise routine which consists mostly of Tai Chi and Chi Kung. And that, even in bad weather, I go to my Tai Chi class.
What keeps you inspired?
The philosophy of the Dali Lama is inspirational.
When are you happiest?
I am always happy, as I live in gratitude, most of the time. I don’t want to be on my death bed and realise I spent time being unhappy.
And where does your creativity go?
Basically towards writing.
What’s your philosophy of living?
Be the change you want to see in the world.
‘I will not go gentle into that good night.’ However, I could easily change my mind about that and hope I will pass away gently and painlessly.
Are you still dreaming?
I dream all the time and should I ever find a Jungian dream therapist who doesn’t charge a fortune I would love to consult her.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
I have no desire to be outrageous.