It is ten years since I published The Colony Room Club 1948-2008 book, almost nine years since Jan Vink and I took over the lease of the crypt in Tower Hill/Aldgate and made it into the Vout-O-Reenees arts club. It’s five years since I left that marriage. Four years post–divorce, we are still working together.
It’s been a long time since I fell in love. We mark our lives with time and dates, but maybe we shouldn’t be so orderly. As I get older, time has taken over the accelerator of my life and occasionally also the steering wheel; some weeks can be a bumpy ride.
Everything is different now, now that I have allowed it to be. I have removed the metal casing that sat like a chastity belt across my chest, a barricade to my interned heart, carefully placed there as my marriage fell apart and I went into freefall. For the last five years, I’ve meditated daily on releasing it back into the wild. But like any overprotective mother (Demeter!) I couldn’t allow it freedom or trust that there wasn’t a dark lord of the underworld about to rape it all over again.
Trust is a hard thing to find after you have lost it, but not impossible. That’s hope. I had come to think, I shall always be single, I shall dance through life with no obligations to anyone but myself. Pure nonsense because I have wonderful children, family and great friendships all come with responsibility. It was the sex that was a problem, I couldn’t rid myself of wanting sex until one day I did. I had sex with a friend, and I thought that will be the last time because there was a huge part missing. It was physical, but no vulnerability and no heart exchange. We had both become closed to the business of love. Sex is a poor man’s intimacy I felt, so what is the point? I didn’t realise what with all my meditating that I was the problem, the wall, the locked door.
Then at the end of the long hot summer, I went to spend a weekend with some good friends by the British seaside. It was the sort of bonding weekend that Netflix dramas are so badly scripted around. Four old friends get together –three of us single and 60 or almost – plus the husband. We put the world to rights whilst doing rituals to the full moon during a midnight swim. These are women I’ve known since I was 12; we have watched the trajectories of each other’s lives and careers, children and weddings.
Only yesterday, it seemed we were scraping each other off nightclub walls and putting plasters on each other’s knees and hearts. As Fran Landesman’s song goes, ‘we all get scars on our way to the stars’. Then T+J showed me their dating apps and chided me for not being on one. They told me the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts, and entertained us with stories of disasters and pratfalls. ‘They are not for me’, I said. ‘I’m in a business where I meet hundreds of people each month, if the universe intended for me to meet someone, surely it will happen? Besides, I have my Mum to see to, a lot of work, friends and kids. I’m too time-poor!’
I realised I was making excuses for a challenge, I felt I had already taken in 1994 when I put an ad in Time Out Magazine. It read – Goddess who likes to laugh in bed requires a suitable Male companion. I received 69 replies and turned it into my third novel, Dear Goddess. I found an adoring relationship aged 33 as a single mother, but I’m unsure how capable I was of love even then. In hindsight, you look back at how you stumbled through life so blindly.
‘Never say never. Okay, I will show willing to the Universe’, I said vain gloriously, ‘one last burst.’ Does my ego never get tired? I joined Hinge and took a day to seriously fill in the page, find the right current photos and be true to myself about what it was I wanted. I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs and I have a life ambition this year it is… to go to see Edward James Follies in Mexico via the Niki de St Phalle sculpture park in America with a drive down the coast in between. You either want to do an art trail or you don’t.
I didn’t want, I discovered – young handsome men, a reliable man with own teeth, hair, home, holiday home and car, with pension. Or the very rich who ran a global company, or the very righteously liberal or an artist or writer. I wanted someone of roughly my age who was fit, funny, clever, kind, spiritual and curious enough to be on my wavelength and who’d spent time and money doing work on himself so that we would be able to find the mirror within each other.
What I was not prepared for, was to meet a man that got me. Not the outside but within. Who understood what my heart gravitates towards, the authentic and the real me, not my hologram that I have perfected for so long it could rival the ABBA experience. To meet someone who showered me with compliments, which made me realise that I’d always chosen men who ignored my efforts, my talents and my way of thinking. I wasn’t used to the adoration and I felt both vulnerable and suspicious beneath the laughter of being love bombed, because that is how it felt. But I was able to voice it and unsurprisingly he felt similarly. Because when you are over 60, and you have lived a life that has not been as conventional as others, it can also be rocky and hard. One builds up the defence systems unconsciously to better withstand the next volcanic humiliation of hurt.
Part of the stressful wariness comes from stories on the radio or in books by Elizabeth Jane Howard (Falling) of vulnerable older women being duped by callous conniving conmen. It is not enough to just listen to hypnotherapist,Marisa Peers, excellent as she – is telling us that we are loveable and deserving of love. However, a knowledge of who we are allows us – to trust our own instincts. That is a lot of reading – Greek philosophy, thinking, Jungian & Stoicseminars, conversation and therapy. To meet someone you like and get on with is hard enough – at a certain point we become so static – but to understand that this is just a periphery, that there is a deeper spiritual connection where one can discover magic.
The real surprise was of making love after all these years. We weren’t having a fuck, I wasn’t being screwed, I wasn’t getting laid or having a bunk up, shag or sex with someone else. It was as close to communion as I can imagine. I felt an ancient ache as my rib cage seemed to enlarge, similar to when you’re pregnant. Like feet inside my heart, toes wriggling and the green shoots of springtime renewal come to mind and to life. Yes – it is completely bloody cosmic as you float out into the universe! And I haven’t taken mushrooms or Ayahuasca with witchdoctor in a Brighton bedsit. But it’s not an out-of-body experience, it is as my boyfriend John would say, ‘an inside job’.
John and I have already been to Paris and are about to go for two weeks – yes, two weeks to Sicily, and we have known each other for six weeks. Life is short people of our age die all the time. Did I mention we knew each other back in the day? What was it about his appalling selection of photos, one smiling off guard and one word, harmony? Isn’t that what we are all looking for in ourselves or another? And there I was filling in my profile like it was a job application, a Sylvia Plath poem. At least I can make myself laugh with my earnestness but even better, I can make John laugh too. Did I write that! Love after 60, everyone should at least have a go at being a teenager again. Anyone for David Cassidy or Donny Osmond? And they call it puppy love…
Sophie Parkin’s Artsclub www.Vout-O-Reenees.com is open for new members who love music, laughter, Art conversation and dancing. She has a story in two anthologies out this year – PZ77 ed. By Simon Parker at Scryfa press and Songs from the Underground by East London Press, book launch with readings on 21st Dec 6-11. Please come RSVP HERE