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Midlife Women’s Discovery 3 Day Retreat in Cheshire, UK

1 Minute Read

Do you find yourself wondering what life’s about at times, or struggle to find your purpose? Maybe your lacking passion and inspiration or want a new direction.

Our retreats are designed to help you tap into your emotions with journaling, look for opportunities in the universe with tarot and unblock your energy with reflexology and Qi Gong.  Also included are 3 yummy vegetarian meals a day plus homemade vegan cake, because life is always better with cake. The cottage is located in stunning nature with an award winning pub nearby – just saying! Walking, talking, laughing, the odd drink and a dance if the mood takes you, are all on offer.

Dates: 10 – 13 July & 13 – 16 July. Prices from £295 with discounts for AoA members.  Soul Sisters looks forward to having you.

AofA interview: Topaz Chanteuse – Performer, Singer

6 Minute Read

In 2017, Suzanne and I were in NYC and we thought we’d do a Flamboyant Tour of the Subway there. Not many ‘flamboyants’ turned up but Topaz Chanteuse capped us all with her purple and black feather headpiece to die for and matching vividly mauve hair. 84-year-old Topaz rapidly turned into our AoA poster woman. She is so funky and so out there, she decorates her walker with tinsel. She retired when she was 62 from the 9-5 world and she’s always been a singer and performer. And she’s still performing.

This July Suzanne was visiting once more and we were determined to get Topaz on tape. Here she is in all her magnificence.

Suzanne: So you’ve had a quite a life so far.

Topaz: Yeah, I think I’ve had three lives actually so far.

Suzanne: Do you think that everybody should have three lives?

Topaz: Oh it worked for me, I highly recommended it but I don’t know if everyone can do it. You have to be very adventuresome, you have to be willing to leave a marriage if it’s not working which is what I did at 45. So many women stay married and they’re both miserable and it makes no sense.

Suzanne: Men as well. It’s funny because we just posted an article about a woman who went out with lots of married men, most of whom were long-term married. I think that 90% of what stops people from having adventurous lives or doing what they want is just fear.

Topaz: Fear of the unknown, fear of trying a different ethnic group; I had a black period (only black men) for about 15 years and I thought I’d never go back and then I met a nice white Jewish guy in Jamaica. I used to go to Jamaica every summer on my vacation to meet black men and I met a nice white Jewish guy with dreadlocks instead. We had the greatest sex. That was my turning point that started another life. I think I may have had four lives.

Suzanne: So did you always live in New York?

Topaz: I was born in the Bronx, grew up in Brooklyn (my parents moved there when I was an infant) and couldn’t wait to get out of New York…out of Brooklyn and move to New York the city so I got married and we moved to New York right away. I’ve been here ever since.

Suzanne: So you were here in the 70s when there were the leather bars. I never went to Plato’s retreat but it was one of those places you had to go. My  younger self used to think that looks really fun but scary.

Topaz:  Now I did go to Plato’s because I was divorced by then. It was very nice until I was there with my then-boyfriend and I still remember and we swam in this pool where everybody was f****** and then we stayed so late the lights went up and we saw how filthy the place was. The pool, in particular, was so scummy and disgusting so I never went back, only once and for me, it was a nightmare. I loved the whole experience until the lights went up and then it was really bad.

Suzanne: I missed all of that, the last time I was here Rose and I went and a met a photographer that goes around the meatpacking district and shows you all those clubs and tells you intimate information about what went on. That was great and again I just felt like wow there was a period in New York where there was so much going on.

Topaz: Exactly, pre-AIDS and I was single again during that period so it couldn’t have been better. I was out looking for Mr. Goodbar almost every night – going to the bars, bringing guys home.  How I didn’t get killed, murdered, raped I don’t know. I am such a survivor I can’t believe it. I got ripped off a couple of times, you take a stranger home from a bar and you’re f****** him and then in the morning, several of my rings had gone which I left on the night table stupidly.

Suzanne: So you were married to a guy and it was like a very vanilla, very traditional kind of marriage and then there was a part of you that just got really bored of all of that and just decided that you were going to go out and explore.

Can you remember your first foray into that unknown, did you ever do for instance the Village Voice Personals?

Topaz: The very first thing I did when I left my marriage was to hang out with my best friend who was gay. This gay guy whom my husband hated and was jealous of. I said I just left my husband and he said: “Oh fantastic, come on over I’ve got a bottle of bubbly on ice; come on over.” and I went over and celebrated and from then on I became a total fag hag.

It was the summer and I went out to Fire Island and spent all my weekends there whenever I could go. I was working then so it would be on the weekends I’d go to Fire Island and dance at all the gay clubs plus sniffing that stuff, amyl nitrate (poppers). We would do poppers on the dance floor and then I would always manage to find a straight guy even on Fire Island in the Pines which was like 99% gay.

I would find a straight guy and we make out and he’d be living with another guy; once the other guy joined us so they were doing each other while he was doing me and crazy stuff. That was my first step; my transition was hanging out with gay guys, going to the gay beach and going topless. I had to learn to go topless because, before that, I would get undressed in the closet even when I was married. I don’t think he ever saw me naked, I was so ashamed of my body. So I went topless and that was such a liberating thing because from there I started going to straight parts on Fire Island and I would find a nude beach and go there and go topless and I’d meet guys. I picked up guys everywhere I went. I picked up a guy on the bus once I remember.

Suzanne: How do you feel now at 84? You’re amazing.

Topaz: Much of my focus on having fun, staying active, relevant and positive as I grow older, and inspiring others to do the same. I recently appeared in a multi-generational show – What Tammy Needs to Know about Getting Old and Having Sex. The only word I would change in that title is old. I prefer to get older rather than old. Some steps I’ve taken to make that happen include – dying my hair purple, modelling Lola’s Cargo Pants and also in the nude covered in temporary tattoos in an ad for Tattly Tattoos. My motto is – Age is the New Black.

Go, Topaz, go…

AofA People: Gillian Haqqani – Jeweller

1 Minute Read

What is your name?

Gillian Haqqani

Briefly sum up who you are and what motivates you

Who am I? That’s a hard one. Factually I’m a twice-married once divorced and now happily separated mum, granny, and former teacher, now a small business owner. What motivates me? I’ve always been very self-motivated, and I’ve always wanted to do things to the best of my ability. My immediate family also motivate me and nothing is better than getting a “Wow! That’s Awesome Granny ”. In tough times my family keeps me going.

If you have a job, what you do for a living?

I’m a former primary school assistant head and the most of my career my responsibilities were for children with special need or disability (SEND) as well as for Child Protection and Children in Care. I’m now retired and so have more time to focus on my jewellery business.

How long have you been doing this?

Just over two years.

What you find most satisfying about your job?

I love the feedback I get from customers whether that’s in real life or online and I particularly love it when I have returning customers. I also enjoy the whole creative process especially when I’m working on a new design and there is some problem solving involved to get the reality to match what I’ve got in my mind. Learning new skills whether that be in the making of my jewellery – which is something rather different as I use paper and origami to create my pieces, or in developing my business IT skills.

Is your work primarily a means to an end i.e. money, or the motivating force of your life?

I’m lucky enough to have my teachers pension as my main source of income but the money I make from my jewellery really helps in terms of getting some of the wants. I really love making my jewellery and tried to be the best I can be and it is also very much a form of emotional therapy for me. Building up my business and all the positives that come from that have really helped me to rebuild my confidence and self-belief.

If you don’t work for a living, can you say why?

Unfortunately, about five years ago I developed severe arthritis in my neck and after some other chronic diseases decided to come along and join the party, last year (2017) I had to reluctantly admit that it was becoming too difficult for me to carry on working. The plus side is that I can now focus more on my jewellery business.

When you are eight, what did you want to be when you grow up?

Very boring, but the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be was a teacher.

Did you get there – and if not, are you happy/sad that you didn’t?

Yes and I’m so glad I did.

What is your dream job?

My last job. I loved the job, the school, and the pupils. It made having to give up even more heart-breaking.

If UK – based, are you glad, indifferent or disappointed that the official pension age is rising

Disappointed, I’m lucky in that I do have a decent teachers pension and I also receive some disability benefits. However, as I still have a mortgage to pay until I’m 64 money is tight and as I’m 57 at the moments having to wait another 10 years to receive my state pension seems an awfully long time.

Getting my Painting into the RA Summer Exhibition!

9 Minute Read

‘I am a fan of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. As a younger man, I thought it a bit jumble sale-like. It’s not, and the mix of a piece by a premier league contemporary artist hanging next to a piece by a ‘Sunday painter’ is one of its great appeals…I submitted two pieces to the 2017 exhibition. Neither was selected. I submitted two pieces to the 2018 exhibition. One WAS selected’   Bob Deakin

I went to art school in the late 1970s. One year at Winchester and three years at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham. I remember prospectuses for courses typically described them using the word; peripatetic. I applied – and was accepted – having no idea what this meant. Only quite recently did I appreciate it means something like walk around or roaming.

With some help from staff about where I could find things that interested me, my experience at Art School had some fascinating experiences and some exciting consequences. It provided very little in the way of technical training. I did learn how to take and print photographs because I wanted to incorporate these into what I was making. Things like life drawing were not done; it was not hip.

The place of contemporary art in the world then was very different to how it is now. I recall the Tate’s purchase of Carl Andre’s bricks being front cover news on the Red Tops. And not in a good way. It was reported as a scandalous waste of money. I recall being called upon to justify it by aunts and uncles at a family gathering. I doubt I made a good job of this. Thankfully my parents were very supportive, including never asking ‘what’s it about?’ type questions when they visited my degree show. My work then included some visual punning so they would have ‘got it’ anyway.

Towards the end of my degree course, I applied for a place on post-graduate courses. I got as far as interview for two. Both suggested I go away for one year, continue making work, get some experience and apply again in 12 months’ time. I went away. I got a job. One that had nothing to do with my art education, but was fun, paid cash on a Friday afternoon and didn’t require me to think of work if I wasn’t AT work. I often spent much of the cash I received on a Friday afternoon on the same Friday evening.

My father was struck by an illness from which he died. I supported my mother through the initial months of her grieving. I got a dilapidated flat near to the Oval cricket ground. I fixed it up using skills I’d peripatetically acquired at art school and also learned from my DIY enthusiast father. Would he be pleased? I think so.

My fixing-up skills helped with my appointment to the job of Display Carpenter at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge. It was an exceptional job. I loved it and I learned so much in my time there. It was also where I met Rachel. We fell in love and were together for 27 years. We have two children. We separated in 2009.

Rebuilding my life as a single man was a challenge. It was sometimes delightful, sometimes not. I started going to art galleries again. When I did I appreciated how much I had completely suspended this driving interest.

I experienced visual art differently from how I had as a student. I didn’t feel compelled to understand it as I once had. My responses were more; ‘Do I like this?’ ‘How did the artist do that?’. ‘I can see the artist’s hand in this’.

Sometimes I’d be looking at the work of a contemporary, practising artist, sometimes a Michelangelo or a Leonardo. At moments during my visits I cause concern to gallery attendants. I have no intention of touching but I like to be inches from the surface to see the evidence of the MAKING of this thing.

The single-man Bob started to think about acquiring some of the technical skills his art school education didn’t provide. I signed up for evening classes. I did lots of life drawing, also etching, silk-screen printing and recently portrait painting.

On a 1 week and then a 2-week summer school course, I experience rigorous training in drawing. At times I imagine my experiences to be like those of an apprentice to a Renaissance artist in 15th century Italy. I doubt there was much peripatetic about their learning. There was nothing peripatetic about mine on these two courses.

At a portrait painting evening class in 2017, I set myself the task of producing 12 portraits within the 2.5-hour class. I think I got 7 or 8 done. If you knew how possible it is for me to labour obsessively over getting things ’right’ you’d appreciate the potential liberation associated with this intention.

This is one of my paintings from that evening: I thought it to be of little merit. The tutor and some other students thought different. I took it home and it grew on me. People who know me well have made comments about it that I recognise are deep-rooted aspects of me.

I am a fan of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. As a younger man, I thought it a bit jumble sale-like. It’s not, and the mix of a piece by a premier league contemporary artist hanging next to a piece by a ‘Sunday painter’ is one of its great appeals.

I submitted two pieces to the 2017 exhibition. Neither was selected. I submitted two pieces to the 2018 exhibition. One WAS selected – the image above. (I’m excited and emotional just typing this.)

One of the privileges of exhibitors is the invite to Varnishing Day. Here’s my story of that joyful day:

Exhibitors meet in the RA courtyard for the procession to St James’s Church.

On the walk, I strike up a conversation with Eleanor, also a first-time exhibitor. We discover that we both studied at the Art Academy on Borough High Street, me evening classes, she a five-year part-time course. We had both been taught by Carl Randall. Carl was responsible for suggesting to me that my piece in this year’s exhibition had some merit.

The church is gorgeous, the service lovely. I am struck by how the voices of the small 8 piece choir fill the space of the church. I think there must be more than two hundred of us in the congregation. I picture the 200+ beating hearts and creative brains. I am aware of mine being one of these.

I walk back to the RA with Eleanor. We express our mounting excitement about seeing our respective works in the galleries. I don’t remember when I last felt like this. I am at a loss to describe the feeling; this is a first-time experience.

Back at the RA now, and at the entrance to the galleries, we are given the ‘List of Works’ book and a glass of sparkling wine. None of us knows where we’ve been hung. I look me up; I’m in room IV. Eleanor is in another room and we part saying we’ll catch up later.

I walk straight to Room IV and see my painting across the room from the door. I’m in a great place. I take photos as I walk towards it. These are blurred. Is this due to my excitement? I take more, this time closer and in focus.

This is such a thrill.

Looking up to the right from mine I think I recognise the work of an artist. I look it up in the List of Works. It is the work of my art-school tutor Gerard Hemsworth.

I haven’t exhibited anything since my degree show in 1979 when Gerard was my tutor. Our paintings are hung about 2.0 metres apart. First I’ve met Eleanor with whom I have Carl in common, now I’m this close to Gerard, who was influential in my art education and for whom I’ve the greatest respect. I’ve seen his work at previous Summer Exhibitions.

I share this 2.0-metre proximity with other exhibitors, including Una Stubbs. Her painting and mine are 1.5 metres apart.

I walk to some other rooms but am compelled to return to mine to witness my painting seen by others. I am delighted to see that Gerard is there. He’s barely changed in the nearly 40 years since I last saw him. I say ‘Hello Gerard’. There’s the briefest moment of hesitation on his part until he smiles and we both do the ‘nice to see you, which room are you in?’ type exchange. I (like to) think he is as amused as I by the proximity of our work. We chat for some time.

I walk around once more. Then return to my painting. A painting very near mine is by a young artist. He’s maybe 11 years old and his mum is with him, taking photographs. I congratulate him on the inclusion of his work in the show. We both say it’s our first. I tell him he will surely have more.

A man in a flat cap joins our conversation. I ask him in which room his work is hung. He introduces himself as Humphrey Ocean, committee member of this year’s exhibition and hanger of Room IV.

He tells me he liked my painting from the first time he saw it and thinks it sits very well with those paintings he’s hung close to it. He tells me it also looks like the portrait of another exhibitor in Room IV. He subsequently introduces me to others as ‘my new friend Bob’, and tells me that Gerard was also his tutor back in the day.

 I am stopped in the courtyard on my way out. He introduces himself (I forget his name) as the creator of another piece in room IV. I recall the piece. He saw Humphrey and I talking, he knew which piece I’d painted. He said he liked it.

Humphrey has two paintings in this room. Gary Hume is hung here too. Looking at the List of Works this evening as I write this, I note that Lisa Milroy, David Batchelor, Jock McFadyen, Harry Hill and Basil Beattie, with Una Stubbs and others whose names I don’t recognise, are hung in this room. How remarkable that I’m showing alongside them. And Gerard.

I had the greatest of days today at the Summer Exhibition Varnishing Day. I’m thinking it was meant to be.

The RA Summer Show is on until 19th August.

More info here.

AofA People: Nancy Good – Full-time artist/photographer, musician, singer

1 Minute Read


Las Vegas




Frickin’ awesome


Freedom of self and confidence borne of paying attention


Yes, please


Blissfully married




Many things … my husband, my family, friends.


Watching others shine!




Art, loving my friends and family, giving back to my community


Celebrate and cherish every moment.


If it’s my time, bring it on!




Creating an original dress out of one of my artworks to wear at my art opening.

AofA People: Alfie Thomas – Performer, Composer, Musician

3 Minute Read

Alfie Thomas plays the accordion and keyboards, sings backing vocals, and composes. Alfie was born in Middlesbrough to Belgian and Cockney parentage. He is a Soho resident and is part of the Society of Imaginary Friends.

What is your age?

Where do you live?

What do you do?
I am half of a creative partnership called the Society of Imaginary Friends, we write, record and perform music together, we write music for film and we hold two Soirees a month in Ealing and WoodGreen featuring the extraordinary talent of London’s population our Ealing Soiree is held at the office where I work as a support worker for disabled people and their carers it is fully inclusive and inspiring. I have a boat on the river Thames which I escape too when my central London life gets too much.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
It is a mixture of feeling more relaxed and more urgent. I feel very involved in the current state of our city and country and world and try to reflect this in everything I do. I am starting to discover new things about myself that were hidden or lost and this is very exciting but quite challenging.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
A history!… An understanding of human nature and a healthy scepticism but a relaxed love of the moment.

What about sex?
Sex is getting better all the time.

And relationships?
I am blessed with a gorgeous, intelligent, talented Goddess as my girlfriend, I don’t know what I have done to deserve this but it’s brilliant and she never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

How free do you feel?
It depends what time of day or what time of year it is but generally because I feel closer to understanding myself I feel freer than I have ever felt before.

What are you proud of?
Proud of my music, I am proud of my children’s and my girlfriend’s resilience to the challenges of this world and our capacity to stay true to ourselves.

What keeps you inspired?
Humanity, my extraordinary clients… carers who have given everything to look after a family member completely selflessly. Beethoven and Shostakovich.

When are you happiest?
On stage, by the sea, composing. Walking the streets of Clerkenwell with Louise.

And where does your creativity go?
Into the ether.

What’s your philosophy of living?
Be kind to each other, be truthful, live adventurously but don’t be naive.

And dying?
When I die there are a number of people that I am really looking forward to meeting and seeing again and others that I am going to be having some firm words with, generally I think it’s going to be a fantastic party over the other side these words will come back to haunt me!!

Are you still dreaming?
Of course I am, my girlfriend and I always discuss our dreams her dreams are more lucid than mine, I can usually tell my psychological state by what I have dreamt the night before so it’s a handy indicator.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
Putting my middle finger up at a motorcade as they passed my car which I presumed to be our Prime minister but was later told by a police motorcyclist that it was the president of China and he was very upset! The policeman let me off with a caution as he was unhappy with our Prime minister as well..

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