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Book Review: Bolder- making the most of our longer lives | Carl Honoré

1 Minute Read

Carl Honoré is approaching his 50th birthday with trepidation. He’s worried about what happens on the other side and this sets the background for Bolder.

This context is worth remembering as you read Bolder. Honoré’s exploration of ageing is a self-confessed part of his own education and need for ‘reassurance’.  Compared to many members and followers of AOA, who’ve been splashing about in middle age for a while, he appears at times to be an ingénue: he is genuinely surprised and shocked by attitudes to age.

Reading Bolder is like following an explorer in ageing Disneyland, a place that proves to be a personal roller coaster ride for the author. He finds many positives about ageing that are backed up by researchers and academics, but occasionally, usually when you start feeling good about being whatever age you are, he steps on a spike and it’s like getting the snake in Snakes and Ladders.

One moment he is laughing with Spanish grannies on a graffiti workshop, the next he brought quickly down to earth by a young female observer who tells him she wouldn’t put them on her Instagram because ‘old people aren’t that attractive.’ There are his descriptions of a Lebanese television show where over eighties play pranks at pharmacies asking for Viagra, a show that has become extremely popular and produced its own media stars.

And the same thing happens: he begins to wonder about that slender line that separates something sweet and charming from being a circus in which the aged are targets of the wrong kind of laughter. These elements in the book are the ones that made the headlines in mainstream reviews, i.e. The Guardian. While I understand how the media works, I’m not convinced that ageing, which the author describes as a game for ‘losers’, needs to be a circus.

There is much that is positive about ageing here: cognitively we are better at learning and picking up new things in middle age. In a study of IT professionals, those who were in their fifties were far more relaxed about new technologies and ready to take them on than their younger counterparts. Our experience curve gives us an advantage in making fast connections in our brain, something Don and Patricia Edgar have written about in Peak – Reinventing Middle Age. The reality is that given good health – and enough money, there are no cognitive, intellectual or social reasons why older people shouldn’t be able to continue to be the person they are. And more.

At the same time we are up against a culture that bows to youth and beauty, where social media rules the cultural narrative, and the good life is associated with the unlined and pretty.

Despite the stylish older media stars and the author’s examples of celebrities baring their wrinkles and appearing in ads, they are celebrities that means they get a very special pass that the rest of us don’t get. I wisely skimmed his section celebrating celebrities and grey hair: wild curly hair will never look good grey and I don’t intend to give it another passing thought. Not caring is a big advantage of age.

My first death

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Unlike many people of my vintage, I’d never experienced dying up close. Last year the universe sent me on a crash course, reuniting me with my friend Bob whom I’d met at university in 1979. This isn’t just a story of death. It’s one of friendship, the kind that doesn’t need Facebook Likes to remind it. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Bob in 26 years but it seems he’d been sitting in my subconscious. ‘Bob’ is how I’ve always introduced myself at parties when I don’t really know anyone. It sorts the dull men from the potential. I bought a cult toy back from New York years ago. It had a name but I renamed it Bob. For some unknown reason my godchildren call several of their toys Bob.

I wasn’t meant to be in Melbourne last August. I was meant to be working in Qatar. I didn’t care for the place but, unusually, I’d taken a contract purely for the money. They took the job away the day I arrived so I flew to Australia. Three weeks later as I was suggesting to a policeman he should close Melbourne’s meth labs, instead of fining me for my inability to cross at the lights, my sister switched on her car radio and heard an interview with Bob who’d become a famous children’s screenwriter. And then she heard the words ‘brain tumour.’ Bob had a Stage Four Glioblastoma Multiforme.

“Fancy name,” he said when me met. “Basically, it means Mr Imminent is at the door.”

The boy from Western Australia wasn’t just my friend. He was my Lebanese mother’s adopted Jewish son and a favoured guest at family gatherings. It took us one three-hour conversation to reignite our friendship. After that we were inseparable. I stayed at his flat and looked after him. People said later “You’re amazing for doing that.” I told them I was fortunate to be with Bob again.I wasn’t there because he was dying. I wanted to be with my intelligent, incendiary and incredibly funny friend.

“I’ve taken up smoking again Leens,” he said when we met. “I figured I’d die from lung cancer instead. That way people won’t feel sorry for me, they’ll just say I deserved it.”

These past months have been a time of fierce joy shadowed by despair and tears. Joy generally doesn’t turn up without conditions. There were times we both knew we’d never be more alive: I can’t recall rolling on the kitchen floor with laughter in many, many years. Bob looked after me as much as I cared for him, reconnecting me to people from our mutual past and introducing me to the parcel of scriptwriters, cyclists and musicians who coloured his life. At night feasting on Lebanese food parcels from my mum with a film primed to go, he’d grab my hand and say, “It doesn’t get better than this Leens. We’re living like kings.” Bob liked a ritual. We sat at the kitchen table as he smoked his evening cigarettes, then hugged each other before he wobbled off to bed. As people heard our story they shook their heads in disbelief. “You’re meant to be together for this time.”

Somehow I found strength when he needed it, shoring him up before hospital visits and distracting him from the demons who inconveniently popped up when we were trying to enjoy the moment.In January 2016, the Glioblastoma brought out the heavies. The seizures started and his left side was no longer his. I kept telling myself it would be ok. As aggressive as the tumour was, he wasn’t in pain. I didn’t figure on the emotional suffering, the anguish of having a lucid brain in better working order than most healthy people ever have. Very early on he’d told me he wasn’t going to let the cancer decide. Following his diagnosis he’d done copious amounts of of reading on the Glioblastoma and joined Exit International. “I’ve got Nembutal,” he told me. He’d bought it from China. “When the time is right, I’ll use it.” We knew it would be more difficult when he went into palliative care, but Bob knew all the legalities as did a close circle of friends. As long as we weren’t there, he could do whatever he wished. Endless discussions were held about how to get around the first part of that sentence, but it wasn’t possible. We all hoped he wouldn’t do it but we also knew that was just the living being selfish.

Those eight weeks Bob spent in palliative care – far longer than most people- showed me why we need to be able to make choices about what we think is a good death. Opposite Bob lay Graham, drugged to the eyeballs and getting increasingly foetal everyday. Quality of life is an individual issue and Bob knew this wasn’t the dignified manner in which he wished to die. He’d pushed himself mentally and physically all his life, and to be reduced to whimpering in the manner of a wounded kangaroo wasn’t in his plans. It was his wish and mine that I’d be rubbing his head when he died. Instead, along with a few other confidantes, I was reduced to distant bystander, wondering when it would be. The deadline kept shifting but two weeks ago it was patently obvious he’d had enough. Earlier that week he’d had a huge setback when his right hand seized, as he was playing his beloved harmonica. The last thing he liked doing was now out of reach.

I saw him 24 hours before he died. I’d already been to see him that day but at 6pm I was struck by a sudden urgency to be with him. When I arrived he was in his wheelchair staring at the wall. He looked so vulnerable, confused and childlike.

“Hello,” I said, coming up behind him. He was startled.

“Who’s that?”

“Me Bobby. What are you doing?”

“Dreaming. I think I was dreaming.” It was the way he said it but watching this huge character, this giant of a man suddenly dissolve into a lost child was too much for me.

I put my arms around him. He sparked up for a while, he asked me if I had plans because he was worried I didn’t plan enough and then he was tired. We hugged which we always did and he played with my hair not wanting to let go. Because I was trying to be grown-up and strong, the sobbing accelerated. Now he was comforting me. “I don’t say I love you enough Leens, but it sounds trite.” I told him it wasn’t but trite itself was highly overused and beneath him. He laughed. I cried all through the night and into the next morning. I figured we’d have a few more days but his calmness worried me. They put him on watch the night he died because he’d yelled at the psychiatrist but he was a clever bastard. He found a window around 10pm. It was time enough to wheel himself into the toilet, mix up the bitter powder, drink it and get back into bed. He fell asleep for the last time.

Bob detested the smiley cancer industry. Like Hitchens, the idea that he was fighting a brave battle was swatted aside. “It’s a fucking illness,” he said. The prevailing narrative of survivors and bravery overlooks the reality that most people diminish and die in the most painful circumstances. From the moment you’re diagnosed as terminal, death becomes a process based on a collective view of what is best. I’m not questioning palliative care: it’s one of the only alternatives we have. But it’s not for everyone (and by the way how many doctors do you see curled up in palliative care?) While we ramp up the fetishisation of cancer and parade those who’ve fought the good battle, it seems to me we’re avoiding the hard discussion, the one about most people dying horrible deaths and being unable to die the way they choose.

All Bob wanted was a few people to be around him at the end. But because he didn’t follow the script, he had to die alone. It’s not so much his death that upsets me: it’s that I wasn’t allowed to be there to rub his head.

I woke up at 40

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There’ll be times when you’re walking down the street and you’ll see two twenty-somethings with legs all the way to Lithuania, and that paradoxically world-weary manner of girls who have the world ahead of them. This being North London they are indeed from Lithuania. You shoot them an appreciative glance. A bit of envy maybe, but nothing deep. All you have to do is remember what they have ahead of them: adoration yes but also the insecurity of youth, the men you longed for and never understood when they hurt you, but mostly the constant jostling for your place in the world; that nagging feeling that you had to be at the centre of everything because if you weren’t you simply didn’t exist. Sure you looked great in a scrap of white broderie anglaise and bare legs but it was accessorised with insecurity and anxiety about what other people thought of you.  Because you were not even sure what you thought of you. “You don’t appreciate yourself,” said my mother. I now find myself saying that to my niece who is eighteen and gorgeous. She looks at me utterly perplexed as if to say “What is there to appreciate?” And I realise it’s hard for her, like it was for me: she has no idea who she is.  Youth may be a gift but it’s also one hell of a messy experiment if you do it right.

At some point, if you have examined and thought about life and its randomness, you will stop wishing you were six inches taller/had blonde hair/had larger breasts/had smaller breasts/had a perfect nose. It just doesn’t matter to you because you’re involved in life. And you become magnetic to people because they sense it.  You have hotter sex, spirited conversations and fun, the kind of fun you have when you really don’t give a damn. You don’t need to be the life and soul of the party; attention becomes something that matters more in private with close friends. You still look at and admire youthful beauty but you don’t spend time wishing you were that person: Charlotte Rampling once said that now when she sees a young, pretty girl attracting the eyes of every male around, she thinks, “that used to happen to me.” She said it not in a regretful way but simply as fact, as you imagine a woman of her demeanour might. It’s done. Now move on.

In terms of relationships it’s fascinating. I encounter men who find women their own age troublesome, challenging and Not Young.  This is an ancient setting for men, possibly it is literally set in stone and there’s no point fretting it.  Some do it because they can and it makes them feel good, others  because they fear their own mortality and that’s where I think women have an advantage with the ageing process: our bodies go through changes constantly and gradually.  We are adaptable creatures and we do just that so that by the time we’re forty-five we’re not fretting when that six pack no longer appears.  We know our breasts left level one a long time ago and for the most part, except for the days when we’re in the grip of our inferior, we just get on with it.

For men it can be a smooth run until their mid-30s when they are struck by the stark realization of a beer belly, love handles and then at some point during a routine visit, their doctor looks at their cholesterol readings and asks, “Do you want to see your kids grow up?” They overreact. They take up marathon running, a mistress or buy a Porsche. Or all of the above. It’s not such a shock for a woman to see stretch marks and a thicker waist. We adjust to those things and we evolve our style while investing time in our knowledge. I rarely wish for the past though I might smile at photographs of myself in lycra minis and think “Well I rocked that,” I don’t want to wear them. All the smart ladies I know focus on being their best in every possible way. They take the extraordinary amount of self-knowledge they have plus what they know about the world and they use it.  It’s the ultimate freedom to realise you have all these resources and also scary because you know it’s time to take the biggest shot at life you’ve ever taken. Your forties and fifties are in many ways the most radical period of your life I think.

So while ‘youth is beauty, anything else is not worth considering’ is the broad media/social agenda, I refuse to be infected by it because I’ve finally found me. I went through my twenties and thirties doing things because they were there, not consciously. I hid a lot of me, especially emotions. It’s taken me around 25 years to get to the point where I say to someone, “Actually this is how I feel. Take it or leave it.” Looking my best still matters but that doesn’t mean looking ‘young’. What matters now is being me and having these wonderful friends I have now, who are there for life and they know me.

This is the point I was meant to reach and if I wish for anything it’s that I’d reached this place of relative peace (also known as I don’t give a fuck) before. But it only comes with age and in my case it took me until my forties to even locate that place. I feel like I know what I am and what I want. I’ve also noticed that coincides with the world opening up in ways I never imagined.

The title of youngest/prettiest in the room is gone for good, but that’s always gone anyway. It can’t last.  But sexy, smart, sorted, funny, clever, these are the qualities that improve in the phase they quaintly call mid-life, but I just call my time. It’s all up for grabs.

The Frenchman: Dinner and Dungeon

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The next time I saw the Frenchman he was holed up in luxury at Blakes. He’d thoughtfully and firmly requested I join him for two days. The morning of his arrival from Paris I was standing at my lingerie drawer, wondering what vibe I wanted to convey. Pink would be wrong. He had already found my inner slut. I couldn’t go backwards so I opted for expensive whore. It wouldn’t last anyway. He liked naked. A lot of naked.

He sent a text from the hotel.

“I may have a surprise for you.”

At that point my imagination boarded a fighter jet and did a 360-degree roll. Off I went into erotic meltdown for a couple of hours, distracted and dreamy to the point where lifting silk lingerie from a drawer felt ponderous. When I re-entered the world, I thought he’d organised a threesome. I hoped he wasn’t going to surprise me with a woman though. I have no idea what the point of an extra woman is in sexual liaisons. I find an additional man far more beneficial to my needs. Anyway, I turned up and the room was empty except for him.

“You missed the surprise,” he said. “There was a man here I wanted you to meet.”

Damn.Had I been too tardy for my threesome? Did our third have another more pressing engagement?

He led me over to the Zen seating area. On the table was an assortment of leather floggers, whips and various instruments of discipline, all just waiting for the perfect collective noun.

His eyes shone with the expected delight of a man who had just purchased new tools.

“The guy who makes these just delivered them to me. You could have met him.” He sounded extremely disappointed that I hadn’t sighted the craftsman of pain.

He picked up something that looked like a whip but was much shorter and came to a thick, short point at the end.

“Zis one is very arrsh.”


‘Yes.But it is not for you. Too arrsh.” That one was for his Japanese slave. She was a pain slut. “Slaves are such hard work, ” he remarked. They’re so needy and selfish.” I made a note never to have one. From lunchtime into the evening, at least I think it was evening, it became a hazy, erotic blur. We had sex: well actually we didn’t have sex, he fucked me. We didn’t leave the room. I couldn’t anyway since I was tied up. At some point, mid-evening we napped. Then we fucked again. He finally let me have an orgasm which was good of him and in my Zen surroundings, suitably transcendent. Room service arrived and he kept me tied up, naked. They were young waiters, two guys, who were very happy to see me and when he said “Thank you,” they quickly shot back with “No, thank YOU sir.”

“You bastard.”

“Most ungrateful. You should thank me like they did.”

He had a meeting off-site the next morning so I was allowed to leave the lust nest. Just as I was on the verge of remembering who I was in real life, he called. “Where are you?”

“South Ken. Down the road. Aren’t you at lunch?”

“I came back to have lunch with you. See you in a minute. I am in the restaurant. Hurry.”

I didn’t want to miss the school bell. The Frenchman is strict about that stuff.

We sat in the restaurant at Blakes where he managed to casually eat noodles, while putting his other hand up my skirt. “Tonight I have a surprise for you. Something you have not done.” Only the week before I’d ticked off another must-do when I went to Legoland with my godchildren. Anyway, it was just your average date. We went to Honey & Co where we ate wonderful food, debated falafel recipes and he bought me the restaurant’s cookery book. After that he took me to a dungeon owned by a former pro-domme, told me to remove my clothes, put a dog collar and leash around my neck and tied me up. I looked rather good. Then he led me to a cage, indicating that I should get in. Unsure what the modus operandi was, I assumed a suitably feral pose while he gave me a highly informative running commentary about the dungeon, in the friendly manner of a tourist guide. Then he let me out, tied me face down on a bench, blindfolded me and spent the next couple of hours doing beautiful and terrible things that made me shiver. He scooped up my ravished body, dressed me and said, “Let’s go back to the hotel. I have not finished with you yet.” Indeed he had not. Five denials of orgasm later and I was almost in tears until he finally let me have it. Then he invited me to Paris. Because of course I wanted more.

Whoops, I didn’t forget to have children

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I’m rarely asked why I chose not to have children. I’ll admit the idea of missing out on mum politics and a school run did disturb me but it passed. People I know have never felt the necessity to discuss the topic with me, probably because I didn’t. I recall reading a strident Polly Vernon, vehemently defending herself from the barrage of people who seemed to approach her daily, yes daily I tell you, to inquire as to her fertility choices. I’d hazard an educated guess that when faced with intensely personal issues, the stress comes not from others but more likely is a result of our unresolved selves. It’s somewhat far-fetched that your hairdresser, newsagent or the guy at the pub will constantly engage you with, “So what are you doing tonight? Thinking about having children?”

I’ve never had a change of heart. Barely eleven years old, I recall thinking to myself – indeed I may have even loudly announced it to nobody in particular – that I was never going to have children. My father ensured our home life wasn’t stable and it left a legacy. On reflection I realise that I didn’t get the chance to enjoy being a child, and the idea of being responsible for one was far too scary. Nonetheless, at the time I thought I was odd. I hadn’t even thought of marriage. However, what I had come to think of as my errant woman brain turned out to be a full-time, clinically depressed one. I took and still take anti-depressants, drugs that my psychiatrist said might have to change if I wanted children. No way. Now I’d got the right ones, after so many false starts, I was finally feeling like me. I wasn’t about to do something that would alter that state. A life marked by years of inconsistency and instability finally had a floor, albeit a shifting one, but it was the most security I’d had and this was no time to go rogue.

I told him it was sorted.

“What do you mean?” He said in the same voice he said everything: his steady, educated but slightly uninformed voice that ensured he got the information he wanted.

“I mean I’m not having children. As much as I think they’re adorable and the idea of a squeezy toddler makes me smile and go gooey, it’s just not going to work. It’s too much responsibility and I’m still dealing with the fallout of being a grown up toddler myself.” He thanked me for doing part of his job for him, then out of interest I asked him how high the stakes were for a depressive having children. The figures weren’t good. That applies both in terms of producing a child who would have to face a life where the moving men drop into your brain, as well as the spectre of post-partum depression from my end. I didn’t want to end up in the news, demonised by social workers because I left my kids in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket.

By the way I adore kids. No that’s wrong. I love, love them. I love them for being interesting and creative people and fun. I’m a fairy godmother, an anarchist auntie and they’re not just cameo roles. I’ve played a huge part in the lives of my godchildren – yes I’ve changed nappies and dealt with school runs (the politics of the latter was far too much for me) as well as the fun stuff – and it’s been utterly fulfilling. It’s also been just enough, enabling me to enjoy my own inner child, who likes to play. I like the fact that a piece of cardboard can be a car and that when I’m with them I can be in the moment. Now in the advantage of my age (my new name for middle age) I don’t get questions, however I see the questions debated in articles from the UK and Australia where many people are old and alone.

“But aren’t you afraid of growing old alone?”

Ah now you’re talking future. In order to maintain non-panic in my life and give the impression of being the most resilient depressive in the world, I have a dirty secret: I live for the moment. Not the future. That’s too onerous. You see why I love the company of children? So the idea of having babies as some sort of insurance, a security blanket for old age, has never entered my head. It’s a strange notion in this era. Children go travelling and meet tall blonde men on beaches whom they follow to a foreign place. (I did) They study abroad. They work abroad. They become drug dealers and go to jail. They build lives that people could not have imagined 40, 30 even 20 years ago.

“It’s nice to have children around as you get old.”

What is old? Will I get old? I might die before then. I might be hit on the head by a coconut, struck by lightning or taken by aliens. Seriously I know so many people who have kids they never speak to. And others who have children they don’t like, where the feeling is mutual. I know one family where the only child joined a religious sect and was never heard of again. So this concept of being around, let alone kids being around, well it’s all a bit abstract, to me anyway. Word to the wise: If your reason for igniting your ovaries is to bring security in old age, I’d seriously rethink it.There are no guarantees they will be there or even bring you joy. Having said that, I do get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see generations together, but there’s no envy or self-pity. It’s the same feeling I’ve had when I see young children with their parents in the park. It makes me happy. A bit like watching Toy Story.

“Aren’t you scared of dying alone?”

The adage goes there are two moments in life when you are totally alone. Before you make a speech. And just before you die. Having just experienced the death of my friend Bob, his children were in his thoughts but as seizures and incontinence took over his body, he didn’t want them around. Some of us don’t get old. Happily, even with there are still many families where the children are around to provide comfort in old age or can quickly hop on a plane when needed. However, there will come a point, regardless of who is around, where we will all feel alone. From a personal point of view, I’ve lived my life feeling alone in a crowd of people I know, leaving parties after five minutes because I’ve felt disconnected. So the idea of being old alone doesn’t concern me as long as I have some friends who are still alive and most importantly good health. Because ironically, the thing that people value most as they grow older is independence. My mother who has not been sick a day in her life is 86 and not a day goes by when she doesn’t reclaim her independence. While she loves to see us and have us around, I know it’s that ability to run her own life that keeps her from being alone.

Simple history of modern relationships | Woman of Experience

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No so long ago we talked less and had relationships. Now we talk more but it ends in relationship stalemate.

Not so many years ago, there was a time when we actually went out on dates. You went out in person because that was how you met. Sometimes you saw the same person again. And there were feelings. You soon found yourself with a boyfriend or girlfriend (nobody used neutered terms like partner) and people recognised you were in a relationship. This meant they met your mum and on rare occasions, your dad. If you got Serious you could look forward to shared electricity bills and weekly garbage rotas.

Read the full story here: Simple history of modern relationships | Woman of Experience

Make Wit not WiFi

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Time was when the only accessories to be seen with in your local cafe were a black coffee and a cigarette. There are parts of the world where this still happens, but unfortunately these now tend only to surface in war zones. Militias like a short black and a smoke. If you’re already walking a emotional tightrope with caffeine and cigarettes, this may be too much excitement for you.

Fact is, smokers tend to be the more interesting people and are naturally open to conversation. “Do you have a light?” is one of the greatest unhailed, chat lines ever. It’s pretty much gone. As has coffee. Instead we are offered the impersonation of a caffeine flavoured high-lactose solution. It is a beverage but it is not coffee. The dumbing down of cafes continued when some fool created muffins which attracted women dragging prams, nay thrones, bearing children called Persephone and Titus. That was the moment when wit began to leave the cafe.

"This looks like a good place for a cafe," said Lena. They all agreed.
“This looks like a good place for a cafe,” said Lena.
They all agreed.

And then came Wi Fi. Fucking Wi Fi. Like many modern folk I have it at home. It is most useful for booking travel and watching pornography, as well as cross-referencing recipes for Lime and Coconut Tart. But I do not feel the need to be seen with WiFi in cafes, more to the point Wi Fi Cafes do not attract people who are funny and clever. Quite the opposite. Wi Fi is a drawcard for frugal, bespectacled types with Cross Faces, especially men who sigh with rabid displeasure when you ask to share the table. He is busy sending Facebook messages, however there is the real possibility he is a writer because he has Word on his computer.This leads me to think I may be a hairdresser because I own scissors. Writers rarely work in cafes and most certainly do not have a shiny Mac: he or she has a ravished keyboard with a totally faded ‘A’ that has been replaced twice in six months. When a writer goes to a cafe, they go to escape the book that has come to a dead halt, to discuss NOT WRITING with other writers who are officially NOT WRITING and to figure out what they can do about it. And laugh nervously at their impending doom.

This got me thinking about my favourite writer, Dorothy Parker and her posse who spent their time at the Algonquin’s round table hazed in cocktails and cigarettes, where they discussed NOT WRITING and flirted with words as well as each other. The wit flew in all directions. Gems like Parker’s,”You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think,” emerged when Dorothy’s pals required she use the word in a fresh sentence. Today, Parker would be updating her Twitter, where her “What fresh hell is this?” would be misconstrued deliberately by women who decided she was anti-feminist and she’d be blocked. Noel Coward and Robert Benchley would be engrossed in You Tube watching cat videos while sucking on cigars. When asked by a press agent,”How do I get my leading lady’s name into your newspaper,” George S Kaufman would not have responded with the elegant,”Shoot her” because he was Skyping. In Paris at Café De Flore, Sartre would be looking around at the shiny equipment with disdain. “But I have no choice, I need to text,” offers a punter. “Nonsense,” retorts Sartre. “You can choose to kill yourself.” Sitting next to him, Dali would be engrossed in wondering how a shark could produce words. Hemingway would be in a manly rage because he’d written a bad sentence. Annoyed by all four words, he’d throw his laptop in the bin, and immediately take out a new one because that’s what a real man does.

Aside from an ashtray inbuilt into a barber’s chair (which I once saw in Beirut) I think one of the great signs of civilisation is the café conversation that starts anywhere and goes everywhere. People arrive with no agenda, just money for coffee, ideas in their heads and the knowledge that if it’s one of those days, they’ll leave with an intellectual orgasm.

Why The Guardian got it wrong with mid-life dating

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We all know a paper has to appeal to its market but when The Guardian commissioned a woman to write about mid-life dating, they’d already decided the narrative. Read the Stella Grey column and you’ll feel like you’ve been dropped into a world where women over 45 sit alone in a musty attic and once a week, they open an old trunk and put on the corset and black stockings that have never been worn for a lover.

The Guardian narrative plays to women who don’t like men as people

The Guardian narrative of mid-life dating was to be an endless cross-country run over barbed wire, where the woman found herself despairing at immature and capricious men who could not understand her glaringly fine qualities and just what a great catch she was. The subtext was clear from the start. “I’m an intelligent Guardian reading woman and you men just want bimbos.” Given that miserable criteria, it was never going to be a good read. Nor is it accurate.

If you’re any kind of self-aware and confident woman you’ll have the filthiest and most intimate encounters starting in your forties. I was never short of male attention, however as well as an endless stream of dates and a few relationships, my forties were like nothing before them. This is the time of your life when your brain and your pussy work together like fucking clockwork and you project it. Not overtly. No need for that. But all the women here at Advantages of Age and many others I know feel the same way. They were there. It happened. It’s still happening. There’s a lot written biologically about this but I just wonder if it’s nature’s way of reminding us that we now have everything we need to enjoy the sexy years we have left.

Newly separated or divorced does not make you single.

Being newly divorced hasn’t helped the Stella Grey column and I don’t think it makes her right for the task. Single is not the same as being divorced: the latter does not make you single and it’s a transitional, highly fluctuating state. It takes time for many people to become properly single. post divorce. Wounded people cannot deal with the chaos and modern dating is very different to when you might have met your partner of the past 25 years.

Single is as much about the correct mindset as your own place. It means you’re aware, ready and emotionally and physically up for the adventure. It means you know who you are, you understand what you’re not but you know how to make it work. Your self-esteem is solid.  It also means you know not to bet the house on a date or indeed on a relationship: you treat it as just another thing that you do. Especially with online dating. There is much to say about this lawless land, however I’ll borrow from my internet savvy niece: “Don’t take it too seriously. It’s just the internet stupid.”

 Stella Grey is a Guardian caricature: the ‘intelligent’ woman who can’t get laid

Men don’t give a fuck how intelligent you are when they meet you.  They look at your smile,  your breasts, your legs. They’ll twinkle at your humour. Or in my case, they want to touch my wild curly hair.  If they can imagine themselves putting their hands under your shirt or kissing you, they’ll probably talk to you. But that’s not just how men operate. Many women do as well, especially in their forties and fifties. If I can’t imagine having sex with him, then I really don’t care how many books he’s read. If the kisses are good, the books start to matter. If the sex is good, the books matter even more.

The point is that you can’t experience something if you are entering it with the aim of confirming your bias. And that’s what this column (indeed much of the Guardian’s supposed real life stories) feels like. This is not a dating column. It’s increasingly about a woman who doesn’t understand or even like men. A woman who doesn’t know how to say ‘Fuck me.’ And really, by this point in life, that’s mandatory.

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