Age is just a number goes the stereotypical gush around getting older.
Or 70 is the new 40.
But age isn’t just a number, getting older is significant and 70 is a seminal life stage. I believe it’s important to re-define the parameters around what we can do at what age. Of course. If we want to become a conscious dominatrix, or stand on dangerous gantries on the M25 to protest about the government signing off new gas and oil licenses, or become a philosophy lecturer at 70, 80 or 90 etc, then we can and should!
Neither is 70 the new 40. Just because preconceptions of what 70 looks like – are changing. Comfy slippers, blue rinses in that WI way, unsexy pants – none of them are de rigeur anymore. Thank heavens! However why would we want to be 40 now that we’re 70? The assumption is that we always want to be younger because ultimately that feels nearer to not dying.
The age terrain has transformed since Suzanne Noble and I started Advantages of Age in 2016 because we were so sick of being older women depicted in anachronistic, derisory ways. As too old to wear jeans, as invisible on the attractive front, as perpetually weary and sagging.
‘Oh, but you look much younger’ is still frequently used as a compliment. Or the backhanded ‘You look great for your age’. Rather than simply: ‘You look great.’ Mary Beard was campaigning against this veneration of youth a few years ago and it still goes on. In our own psyches, as much as anything. ‘I’m really trying to do that to reclaim the word old. I think about it in terms of other kinds of reclamations of vocabulary we’ve had over the years, such as ‘black’ or ‘queer,’” she said, according to The Daily Telegraph.
I’m rather keen for a campaign to do that for old, instead of ‘old’ instantly connoting the hunched old lady and gentleman on the road sign, or the picture that you get on the adverts you get for senior railcards.
I hope by the time I die, old will be something that makes people fill with pride.’ Guardian
I was 63 and Suzanne was 56 in 2016. Now we’re looking at different age landscapes. So many more positives, more age activism, more choices. It’s not perfect, but there’s much more awareness than there was. However, as my 70th birthday approaches in 2023, I’m looking into my own fears, wants and actualities.
Helen Mirren, Grace Jones, Vivienne Westwood, Jane Fonda, Chrissie Hynde and of course, Patti Smith are all out there doing their thing. In their 70s and 80s. Leading us forth into the unknown with gorgeousness and humour. Creating possibilities for us who follow. And yet, so are our AofA members. Debbie Golt is still out there at 70 – more and more – Djing her reggae set, Tamara Almeroff is inspirational in that she’s 84 and still leading retreats in Greece and Italy as well as working as a psychotherapist, Wendy Klein although she’s very much against the tyranny of positive and insistent about her creaks, she is still writing wonderful gritty poems at 80. Ranjan Hutchings, 76, former nurse, can be seen on various protests demanding justice for Julian Assange and the climate situation. And the men too. My partner, Asanga Judge can still be found abseiling down sea cliffs on Anglesey and then climbing back up again and he’s almost 80 with a major rock-climbing injury. Nicky George has been observed getting down on the dancefloor in his late 70s. And there are many more…
So how am I feeling about being 70 in March 2023? After all of those positive role models? After all of my proclamations? Afraid, wobbly, aware that this is one step nearer to the end of the road. Yes, all of those. There are moments when I’d rather stay 69 forever.
Gradually, more people around my age are dying. I know it makes rational sense that this is true but it is a reminder. I created Dance Me To Death – the Arts Council England-funded dance performance and short film in order to lean into death and dying. In order to honour our dead too including the Covid deaths. I’m taking the film out to festivals at the moment. Although I did notice that one forum decided that talking about death was too dismal so they decided to interview to me about Creativity and Age instead! Oh dear, that’s not the point. Yeah, one of the aims was to make talking about death less taboo. And to create some death activism. As well as increase our vocabulary around death. And hopefully create a death community that would be around as I/we approach that time in our lives.
Recently, I’ve been writing down suggestions for my son and I. For instance, that we visit a Natural Burial Ground together. Forward planning. Glad to say – we discussed this and he thought that it was a good idea. Or that he is the sole beneficiary of my will but that I’d like my nieces and his partner to go through my clothes and jewellery and pick pieces. And my friends, my poster, paintings, masks…
I’ve been worrying about aches and pains. I didn’t have that one before. In my back. I’ve been going to the outdoor gym. My partner, ex GP that he is, reminded me that is probably the provenance. Ha ha. I went to the doctors and had my blood pressure checked. I haven’t been to the doctor’s for about ten years, except for vaccinations. My blood pressure was a little higher.
I’ve been thinking about the question – do I have any big dreams left? And you know, I think, the answer is No. I have small dreams that are golden in themselves.
I have truly loved the last ten years. I embraced 60 with gusto, had a big party, had a ritual that led me over the threshold into eldership, and started a relationship with Asanga. That has lasted. Crikey, that has taken a lot of time and effort from both of us. We have worked through a lot. And we are still travelling between N Wales and London. Every couple of weeks. I’m going up there for January. It works now and we’ve decided we’ll deal with the next stage – if either of us gets ill – organically and adapt.
I started Advantages of Age with Suzanne six years ago. We got an Arts Council Grant to make a series of performances around taboos and ageing – from Death Dinner, the film to the Flamboyant Forever Bus Tour – when I was 64. That was such fun and a massive amount of work. I had my first poetry pamphlet Tantric Goddess published at the same age. My mum had Alzheimer’s and I was developing a new sexual relationship – it all went into my poems.
One of AofA’s basic tenets is encouraging us older people to expand into what they want in life; we’ve always been about inclusivity and clarity. It wasn’t surprising that Suzanne – a dynamic New Yorker – and I -meandering Yorkshire woman – have chosen slightly different routes.
I stayed editing the website and encouraging AofA members to write fantastic pieces for us about their lives and adventures while also running the FB group; Suzanne got more and more passionate about making entrepreneurship more possible for the Over 50s – she set up Start Ups For Seniors with Mark Elliott. She also started singing again. She’s just done her first West End show at 61.
Meanwhile I wanted to dance. And write poetry. And go on London walks with all sorts of characters from Grayson Perry to Marina Walker. And write about them. I created The Willesden Junction Poets project as part of Brent 2020, and then Dance Me To Death in 2021 which has run over into 2022 with the film festivals.
It’s hard sometimes to explain to my friends who have big ambitions that I am very content with small ambitions. With giving workshops called Write a Poem From The Soul and now having an intergenerational group of poets on WhatsApp. With being able to travel with my son. We went to Senegal together in 2019. An unforgettable trip..
And to my 70s? How will it they be? Well, I hope, more of the same. I want to keep ambling lyrically and philosophically across the same terrains. To have the opportunity to immerse myself in the North Welsh countryside is a huge gift. And I’ve found myself joining the local Criccieth Tennis Club and writing essays – one on the area around Asanga’s house which used to be owned by bard/farmer, Ellis Owen, another about the death of my mother four years later – for the New Welsh Review. Diversifying the sort of writing – they are prose and poems – that I am doing, that gives me great satisfaction.
I have a collection of poems that I have been writing over the last decade which I have shaped into a collection and have submitted – this is famously slow – them to various poetry publishers. It’s a labour of love. I am editing a book of my London walks at the moment and relishing the participants and all their opinions – from activist and author, Ishmahil Blagrove who took me around Powis Square to Billy Bragg who marched me to Beckton Sewage works!
Suzanne and I want there to be an Advantages of Age Book to show off all of our different stories around ageing. And inspire others. So many great contributors from the group. We’re working on it. And an AofA Awards Ceremony which present a brilliant array of gongs for those challenging the stereotypes whether in book, art, music, business etc
And I personally want to be more committed to community work – there is a fantastic group in N W London where I live which emerged from a local Mutual Aid Group who are growing vegetables on local community land – from a secondary school to the allotments – to grow food for the local food banks. This is a visionary idea and I’ve started helping. The secondary school behind my flat has a food bank which serves 50 vulnerable families and they include fruit and vegetables.
More travel? Yes, I hope to go to Hanoi and explore. Other trips with my son? I really hope so. We’re off to Paris for my actual birthday. More small trips to the Scillies, for instance. I hope so. More walking up mountains in Snowdonia? Probably if my partner has anything to do with it. He loved that I went in the snow last year. To share this devotional place with him.
Still working on love. The work of a life-time. How can I love with more heart? Be vulnerable with those that can be vulnerable with me. Share deliciousness and darkness too. And have those friendships that give the beautiful glow to life and living. That uplift that comes with openness as well as Prosecco. And now not necessarily Prosecco either. New friendships too. Younger ones too.
And I guess I’m shouting again about my birthday. And that’s helping. I’ve always felt that I’m more relaxed about being the age I am when I declare it with a certain boldness. We’re planning a festival – my partner (he’s about to be 80) and I – there will be camping, we’ve asked for performance not presents, maybe a field version of Desert Island Discs, wild dancing and a celebration, an honouring of our ten year relationship. With extravagant outfits. And hats!
My understanding of ageing is becoming clearer. If we can fully embrace our hopefully slow but steady journey towards death, then we can totally take on – being on that road.
Lynne Franks is showing Dance Me To Death as part of her Women’s Gathering at the Seed Hub in Wincanton on November 25th at 7pm.