Refine Your Search

A Warm Coat in April – honing the art of the virtual live show


1 Minute Read

It’s one year on and there is every reason to be optimistic. Thirty-one million people have been vaccinated in the UK, over five million have had their second shot. Last week there were no reported COVID deaths in London. Next week, things will begin to open up again, to a level we last had in November 2020. The very last time I met with my friends for a sit-down after-work drink in Soho, braving the winter outdoors just for the pure pleasure of each other’s company, knowing we would be missing, not one, but two of their birthdays.

Five months on, Easter Sunday has just passed. On Monday, we met friends in Hastings for a ‘Scandi’ picnic. Outdoor lunch in their garden. Typical April weather, we went through all four seasons, visited mid-way with a tiny sprinkling of snowflakes.  At first, we thought it was blossom petals, but the tiny flakes on pristine black linen napkins confirmed: snow. It passed swiftly and we made the best of the day and of each other’s company by moving the lunch table around the garden, following the sun.

I had arrived in a lightweight spring coat, knowing that our host, Colette, had promised blankets, food and alcohol-laced coffee. Luckily for me, Colette had decided a much-loved 1950s wool swing coat needed a “longer body” than hers. Colette found me a furry hat and a pair of dark glasses. In an instant, I had been transformed from grump to glam. I pranced around a bit, mad as March hare (as they say) singing, ‘Dr. Zhivago! Go! Go! Go!’

These are the kinds of things that can’t happen on Zoom, no matter how sophisticated your background screen is. Though I shudder to imagine how much more difficult these lockdowns would have been without technology, virtual space is no substitute for live interactions. There is no virtual equivalent of being given a warm coat in April or resolving the mystery of whether a flake is a blossom or snow.

Like many performers, I have missed live space in ways I have found unexpected. There is lots of talk about ‘skin hunger, more so for people who live alone and have had to endure months of no contact with anyone other than those in their ‘bubble’. Air kissing has morphed to air hugging and it is to the air that we have all brought our attention to; the air that we breathe, the air that gives us life and is also now our greatest threat. I can’t be the only one who has inadvertently held my breathe under my mask while passing a particularly heavy breathing jogger, can I? In November, I was beyond relieved to be put back on part-furlough and told I could work from home. I dreaded going back to full furlough, to be so cut-off from my workmates, but I think HR was worried that I might actually accost a non-mask wearer. I’m not saying that their fears were misplaced. Commuting from my new flat in Hastings to Tottenham had begun to feel like running the gauntlet. Impossibly stressful, full of perceived threats.

Since the first lockdown, I had, like everyone else spent many hours online; many celebrations, socials, writing workshops, book launches, open mics, performances. One highlight was gifting my mother a new mobile phone so we could face-time each other between South Africa and the UK. What a pleasure to see her beautiful face. To check in a few times a week and see how she was doing, even though I was short of scintillating anecdotes and exciting opportunities, just touching base was comforting for us both.

I actually took part in an online panto ‘Snow White’ with some friends. Many people got pressganged into it but the night itself was wonderful. My friend Alexander Blair, upped the ante by posting pictures of the corset he was handmaking for his turn as the Panto Dame. My flatmate turned his bedroom into a green screen studio and created an entire backdrop scene with a hilarious turn with a graphic bear that popped up behind him so that we could all shout, ‘It’s behind you!’ in our separate rooms. I was laughing so much the tears running down my cheeks moistened the glue on my mustache. Prince Charming, under-estimating her time between lines, went out for a fag and had us shouting into the void for him to come back, hilariously trying to stay ‘in character’ at the same time, as we were recording the performance. Mad Pirvan who was playing Snow White amid a projected wood forest, kept valiantly trudging on. It was beautiful, wonderful, chaotic fun; but we all vowed to do this in person as soon as we possibly could. I don’t think there has been a single virtual event that has not left us hoping and longing for a live-live, though equally, I think we would all happily forego traveling for meetings while slowly building up the courage to keep our cameras off.

I have been playing around with different ways of performing (other than being sat in front of the camera). My bedroom is also an office and is large enough for me to create studio space in it. I have got a small kit of ‘stuff’ together, some bought, some begged, some borrowed: a good webcam, a stand to hang different backdrops, access to a good mic (when needed), a light kit. Virtual performances, like other performances, still need to look visually good. For the Poets for the Planet FRESH: Eco-poetry open mic, which we started last summer, we ask readers to check that they have good light and good sound. It makes the world of difference having illumination from either the front or the side. Often this is as simple as moving a sidelight or changing the position of your camera/laptop. I was advised that if I had a mobile phone, using the camera on that for Zoom would be better than using the default camera on my laptop. It is still good advice. It took me ages to work out that you can buy a relatively inexpensive cam card  (£15-£20) to transform your DSLR camera into a webcam. I have done this for live feeds when I have needed to use a better low-light camera and it works a treat. High-end cam cards cost about £110 and are probably well worth it, but you can definitely get away with cheaper ones, though they may be less reliable in the long run.

One of the great advantages of virtual live performance has been the de-territorialising of events. Most events now will attract participants from across the UK and across time zones and have access to events streamed from other places. It has been wonderful to connect with The Poetry Brothel New York, even if that has meant staying up till 3 am so that I could. Virtual relationships are just as meaningful as those in the flesh and I can’t imagine doing another event that does not make some provision for people (both audience and performers) who cannot be there physically, to have some virtual access. It may also work for performers to increase their income streams at a time when social distancing means limiting the numbers of in-the-flesh audience members.

My most creative performance online was for ‘Maiden / Mother /Crone’ – a project by ‘women of words’. The organisers were very open about how the performance could take place: either pre-recorded or live. After a slow start, I became really excited about the performance, choosing a mixture of pre-recorded and live performance, but sod’s law, despite having a great idea and structure, a ‘little match that could’ refused to blow out, resulting in a tussle in what Henni Saarela, who had designed the music for the piece described as ‘Woman vs Fire’. This small delay effectively put the live actions out of sync with the pre-recorded poem, music, and projected imagery. When it ended (all the excruciating six minutes of it!) I collapsed in a ball of tears. So much work and not at all the result I wanted! The organisers and friends who saw it assured me that it was not as bad as I imagined, but when I saw the footage played back, it was so much worse! I berated myself for not just releasing a pre-recorded set, but really, I love live shows, as it does mean that every time you do it, there is some variation. Any performer who does a long run will confirm this. It doesn’t matter if you have performed a piece hundreds of times, every performance is unique.

I am so looking forward to venues opening up again, but I still have a sense of unease. Some internal warning against being too optimistic. A reluctant realisation that it may still be some time before things will return to normal again or indeed that we may have to contend with a ‘new normal’ for some time. My interest in performing multi-sensory, close-quarter readings still looks like another world away. How do we even begin to transfer the world of the senses over digital media?  How would I even begin to translate this into live space in a socially distanced, COVID-friendly way? What is the relationship between the senses and intimacy? For the moment I will have to content myself with being happy just to be able to do any live-live (not virtual-live) performances, even socially distanced ones – but I hope as we return to normal, we don’t lose our capacity or will for de-territorialising events and making access possible for those unable to join us in live space. To extend the offer of a warm coat in April across digital means.

You can subscribe to my YouTube channel where I will post new videos of performances.

https://youtu.be/ajvpv-yK2uA

PREMIERE OF HEKATE – a filmed live performance

Tues 27/04/202:  8pm

https://youtu.be/ylPQFKflt5Y

Payment by donation.  The recommended price is either the price of a  coffee or a cocktail.

https://www.paypal.com/pools/c/8yU0vnz8TW (till June 21) or https://paypal.me/debrawatson

Irresistibly Drawn to Work in a Recording Studio Down The Road Aged 59


1 Minute Read

Michele Kirsch, writer, wit, asthmatic isolator, mother of two, furloughed chef wrote about Lockdown 2 for AofA and it was brilliantly funny. Here it is. Now she’s onto the next one, and a new enterprise has arisen.

Of course, by the second lockdown, after the confusing tiers for fears, the novelty had worn off. I was well over the glorious government approved and subsidized slacking of getting paid to NOT go to work. At first, my furlough payments were looking kinda handsome as my employers had forgotten to take off tax and National Insurance, but suddenly remembered, and took the lot off as soon as I returned to work. This was after two months of going for long bike rides in desolate London, trying to remind myself that that ghosts of the civil dead might not actually all be dead, but watching telly, in their flats, on furlough, swearing at Joe Wicks and waiting for the ice cream van, just like me. The vast emptiness of London I initially adored, now just felt abandoned and, like me, waiting for something to happen.

At home with the cat

It was so stinking hot; I could barely breathe.  I’d get home from work, run a cold bath and lie in it with bra undies on. Then, chilled to the bone for about five minutes, I would lay on the bed, briefly blue with cold and looking halfway dead. In no time I would be unbearably hot again, and swearing at England, which was clearly breaking the summer rules, of being chilly, by New York standards. I had done many New York summers, and they all felt like this: unbreathable, unbearable, and slow-mo. Nothing was going up except the temperature, and the death count. The manic gaiety I felt – the joy of small things, was fading fast.

Michele in the bath

Work as a chef had changed, in the lockdown. They were more performance-orientated, all speed and efficiency. Right about the same time, I was LESS all of these things, and older. Very suddenly. When a rating system came up i.e. the better you performed, the more hours you got, I came second to last. It was A SIGN. I had spoken to my ex vicar (I have at least as many ex vicars as ex-husbands, but I am very fond of this one) who told me something would happen but not in the way I expected. So I gave notice on my job, thinking Rev Marj, with her Bat phone to God, would make sure nothing very bad happens to me, even though I was doing this insane and catastrophic thing – quitting a job I did not deplore, but certainly no longer loved.

I kept thinking of a line from a Lake Woebegone story, where the mother of the protagonist, a waitress, keeps saying to her, ‘Oh honey, you coulda done something with your life.’

Well, I HAD done something with my life. I had just temporarily forgotten. In July I won a prize for my book, CLEAN, which gave me some money, and a holiday in a mansion in Sligo, which my daughter said I must take because that’s where Normal People happened, and Normal People was all anybody was talking about the last lockdown. But if I were to take the holiday, I would be locked in the mansion for 14 days for quarantine. Yes, it’s not exactly like being locked in Holloway Prison for a similar stretch, but still, I would want to walk through the bottomlands and pick wildflowers and hang out with young groovy and beautiful intellectuals like the ones in Normal People. The photogenic shaggers, him with his medallion swinging all over the shop. Her with the cheekbones. Not on my lonesome, trying to work out the plot of a novel, and figuring out where the microwave bit of an Aga was located. All that had to be put on hold.

Michele in her mask

Then on Jobseekers allowance, I did every free course available to those on JSA. I was going to re-train to be something useful, not just some withered, wasted form of post-pandemic protoplasmic life. I studied, did modules for coursework and had two job advisors. That bit was a fluke that would never happen in real Jobcentre life, my past experience of that Inferno being dead-eyed, stressed out, shouted at civil servants in Matalan suits, shouting at me, shouting at them, in my Matalan suit. These work-from-home Jobcentre people were nice people, and they seemed to genuinely keen to get me back into work. I’d hear a dog barking in the background. The Jobcentre never had a dog.

I also signed up for Advantages of Age’s own Suzanne Noble’s course, Start Up School for Seniors. Not that I actually had an idea for a start-up, but there was a potential opportunity for something local, that had been started up, dropped as per safety measures during the pandemic, but on the verge of starting up again. It was something shapeless, brewing in my head, but there. It was at a recording studio that I passed most days, as it is about 200 yards from where I live. I was drawn to the place, for reasons not yet clear to me.

While I didn’t attend every session of the Start Up School for Seniors course, I just got into the idea that starting conversations about the thing you wanted to do, was a good thing. It helped me work out what I wanted to do. I already knew WHERE I wanted to do it: at the recording studio.  Everybody who walked in or out of there, or who hung out the front, vaping or smoking, seemed in an impossibly good mood. It had a VIBE. I told Suzanne I wanted to be part of it but wasn’t sure what USP I had to offer.

Now the idea of working in a recording studio appealed to me, because I was in the music biz many years ago, as a journalist, press officer and briefly and traumatically, as a tour manager. I understand people in the biz, how they roll, how pretty much all you have to do, to get ahead behind the scenes, is not be an arsehole. To be useful, to be nice, and to be efficient at modern life. This last bit might take some work, but I was two-thirds of the way there. Oh sure, the business has changed beyond recognition from the days when I was young and green and down the front at some indie gig at ULU, going home drenched in sweat that did not come from my body. This was still in the biz, but more grown-up and desk-based.

Plus, I had been in recording studios, well – twice. The first time was with Killing Joke, and that was the most noise-related fun a gal could have at maximum volume if you discount the two weeks of tinnitus that followed. The second time was many years later, watching The Neville Brothers record some tracks, and that was heavenly, in swampy New Orleans, in an air-conditioned room. Could I put that on a CV? More to the point, could I get a job, the way I did in the olden days, without a CV, just by, er, not being stupid, or a shit? I just wanted to be IN there, doing something. I did this about a billion years ago at my first newspaper job in NYC. I wanted to be IN, so I just walked in and then it kind of happened-the newspaper job. Right place, right time, and willingness. My life coach friends would call it the Universe being ready. I call it being willing to be ready for the next thing, without quite knowing what that next thing would be.

Then, a couple of things happened which made me think Rev Marj had been on the Bat phone to God. First of all, I met the owner of the studio in a book group I had just joined. We got on very well You know those rapid-fire conversations where you just kind of nod furiously in agreement about pretty much everything? It was like that. Then, weirdly, the novel I had started to write was set not quite in a recording studio but around some rehearsal rooms off the back of Carnegie Hall and centred on a music teacher who came from nowhere, to teach piano and singing and meet Stephen Sondheim. Could life imitate this formative art, maybe swapping Carnegie Hall for Hackney Road?

The owner and I got to chatting, mainly on email, and he told me that his second in command had sadly passed away from the vile virus. Not that I thought for a minute, that I could replace her, but I could do some of the jobs that she did, again, using the ubiquitous skills of giving good phone and email, and not being difficult. He mentioned that one of the things that got dropped during the Plague was the educational side of the studios, delivering masterclasses and intensive courses in piano, vocal techniques and songwriting. Was that something I thought I could pick up, help organise, administrate, deliver, publicise? Revive? Dare I even apply for a job that I thought might be fun? Well, yeah!

After a few more emails and some socially distanced walks, I was offered a part-time job, and there was really nothing to not love about it, except an uncertain terror that I might be crap at it. A terror, like most of my terrors, founded on zero evidence.

Now I spend three half days a week surrounded by music, fun people, and a feeling of proper hope, that people will never stop making music and never stop wanting to learn how to make music or be better at the music they make. It’s solar-powered, the people are super friendly, and there is an office cat. The potential bonus is that if something weird or plot twisty happens during my time there, I can whack it into the book.

I thought leaving my job during a time of mass unemployment was probably not smart, at first. But the confluence of the prize money, the book club, setting my novel in a place where people did music lessons, and then getting a job where I would be setting up, initially, music lessons, felt really smart. The longer-term goal is to set up a songwriting academy, get some kind of Brill Building mojo going right in the heart of Hackney. I think it’s possible. I think lockdown 2 consolidated my job goals, and everything else was just kind of intention and good fortune. That stuff counts more than you think.

www.premisesstudios.com/blog/jazz-piano-week

Lockdown Story – Living with my 92 year old Mum


8 Minute Read

It’s April 18th 2020, somewhere around week four of Lockdown in the UK. Life has taken on a reassuring and at the same time, unwelcome routine. A glimpse of institutional life perhaps. A distorted vision of freedom.

Mum has been living with us since two days before lockdown began. Uprooted from her cosy flat where assisted twice a day by experienced carers, she lived a semi-independent life. We all joked about her being an evacuee for the second time in her life. Alhough this time, it’s not as a result of a war, it’s simple biology in action and we humans are on the wrong end of the equation as hosts to an unwanted viral guest.

It made sense for mum to move in with us (that is me and my husband of nearly forty years) because we are both shielding – she, because she is a frail 92-year-old with early dementia and me, not yet sixty, living with a rare autoimmune disorder for the past eight years, which requires a regime of drugs to subdue an over keen immune system and to support less than effective kidneys that have endured the battering when the body goes on the rampage against itself. Neither of us would fare well with a dose of Coronavirus so staying safe together in a small unit of three people was the sensible thing to do and this situation demands good sense doesn’t it?

Hubby, Mark, is our stalwart and steadfast gofer – collecting our weekly provisions and, because he enjoys the creativity of it, cooking for us every day. We have decided that we will venture out for a daily walk, it’s quiet in our part of the city. Mum clings to her Sholley, determinedly teetering onwards as we plough our furrow around the block. Roads are almost silent and streets mostly empty.

We have the same conversation each time, we observe the silver birch trees that mum can barely see (macular degeneration having robbed her of most of her vision), then she asks me if the trees have been painted white. I respond that, no, it’s the pale, papery bark that she is seeing. I peel a little away and press it into her hand to confirm the veracity of my words.

Each day, we mention the magnolia tree that sits proudly in a front garden. Each day we comment on its slow progress towards spectacular bloom that is certainly followed by disappointingly drab foliage. Is it worth taking up that much space? We both muse, again.

It’s spring and, although the gardens are verdant and bursting forth, life has a treacle like viscosity, like the slow, dusty dog days of summer, the ones where you are itching for autumn to arrive, to get the heat over with and for time to speed up a little.

Mornings have the same routine, helping mum to get up, to reorientate herself in both space and time, to understand, albeit temporarily, that, yes, the virus is still here and, no, we don’t know when it will end. Each morning we put on the TV news, so loud that I swear you could hear it from space (did I mention that mum is also deaf and hates wearing her hearing aid?). We enjoy breakfast, meals are somehow always life-affirming, and we laugh at the magazine programmes that show others and their various lockdown antics. We do our daily ‘exercise class” with Mr. Motivator and I take photos of mum to put on Facebook under the legendary “Team Eunice”. Mum has come to love seeing how many likes she gets and hearing me read the comments from her many fans.

The afternoons are often less light-hearted as mum’s mind wanders off down one of the many rabbit holes that trouble her each day. She tires as the day progresses and often becomes tearful and confused, wondering what it is that she has done wrong and why she is living here with us instead of in her own home. We mobilise family and friends to make contact via Skype, Zoom and telephone in an effort to both reassure mum that we are all in the same boat and to give Mark and I some respite from having the same conversation on a seemingly endless loop.

The evenings are enlivened with laughter from unexpected quarters; Mum can still be sharp as a tack in dispensing a witticism or wickedly caustic comment. At bedtime I tuck her in, as if she is now my child. I let her know that all is, and will continue to be, well. I make sure she is warm and bestow hugs and kisses so that she knows she is safe and loved. I put out the light. Then I go upstairs to join Mark in his bedroom (we have taken to sleeping in separate rooms, not only to follow the shielding advice but also, if we’re honest, to have some precious space to ourselves, to breathe). We hug, laugh, cry, rant in whispers, rage under our breath and openly question our sanity, terrified of how long life is going to be like this.

We feel robbed of our wonderful, globetrotting, family and friend filled retired life and then immediately are wracked with guilt for even daring to feel this way. After all, there are millions of people who have a genuinely hard life: full-time carers, often on the breadline and managing alone; parents cooped up in tiny high-rise flats with children who are longing for an outdoor play space; those whose livelihoods are ebbing away; those who have no choice but to risk getting infected everyday – the key workers who have, by and large, been invisible and are now being afforded super-hero status (But not the wages that go with it).

The list is endless and I feel that I must temper my urge to scream with a very big dose of gratitude because my lot could be a great deal worse. Even so I remain deeply sad and in a state of grief.

Each day Mark and I take it in turns to walk our dog, a welcome time of solo exercise in a lovely green space not too far from home. A time to be with our own thoughts, to observe the natural world just being there and to decompress. It feels strangely dystopian.

Whichever one of us stays indoors tends to entertain Mum out in our garden. Mum loves being outside, enjoying the scents of emerging flowers and herbs. Each day one of us walks her around our tiny, much loved plot.

Gardening, growing, nurturing and tending has proved to be such a balm, such an act of defiance, optimism and hope for the future. Before lockdown the garden was predominantly my preserve, now it is a sanctuary for us all, one where the seasons move while time stands still.

As we enter the second month of lockdown, a switch seems to go off in mum’s head and she begins to withdraw, turning away from meals and only speaking to ask when she can go home. It is clear that in striving to protect her physical health her mental health is suffering so we begin to make arrangements for her to go back to her flat. Luckily it’s been possible to continue to pay Mum’s carers throughout her time with us and they are both ready and willing to pick up where they left off. Mum is overjoyed at the prospect of going home, although she is now worried that I have contracted the virus because I often have a croaky cough in the mornings. I reassure her that I’m OK. Mark moves back the items of furniture that we bought from mum’s flat to our house in an effort to make her feel at home. Both of us now reflecting on how home isn’t actually about possessions but is in fact about the place where you can be yourself. The transition back to mum’s flat takes place on a Saturday morning when mum’s favourite carer, Linda is there to greet her. Later that day I call mum on the phone and it’s almost as if the past weeks have evaporated, we have the same phone conversation that we always have, she has little recollection of the details of her stay with us, preferring instead to reminisce about her time working at the Admiralty in London after the war.

It is now July and the virus lingers in the background like a bad smell and I find myself bouncing between feelings of relief and spaciousness and a vague sadness.

I continue to rant at politicians whenever I feel the need to let off steam. At the same time, our garden is bursting at the seams with fruits, flowers, vegetables and anything we can grow. I have been swimming in the sea several times a week since the end of May and that brings me more joy than I thought possible. Mum comes here for afternoon tea in the garden almost every week and I have no idea where all this will end or what the world will look like in the future. And I’m beginning to think I’m fine with that.

Libido in Lockdown – Stella Anna Sonnenbaum


1 Minute Read

 Stella Anna Sonnenbaum is an intimacy teacher and founder of Stella With Love. She trained in Sexological Bodywork and Somatic Sex Education with the don, Joseph Kramer. Here she tells us why she’s decided to run a course – Liberate Your Libido – just for men.

The lockdown stopped all of us in our tracks – people are dying, others are fighting for survival… so why do I keep talking about sexuality and pleasure?

Just a week before everything closed down, I realised I wouldn’t be able to make it to Canada to see my Beloved. I lay in bed, feeling sorry for myself, and longing for sex and touch. In the midst of feeling quite miserable and tearful, I had a sudden flash of insight – my feelings are the result of how I see myself – I was making the situation worse by projecting a ‘poor abandoned me’ image onto it!

Instead, I imagined myself being held, being sexual – my body memory instantly recognised the situation, and made me feel warm and yummy and expansive – and much happier with the situation.

Our society is not exactly pleasure positive. It takes courage to take our pleasure seriously and to put our love for ourselves and our partners first. It also takes courage to continue to show ourselves as sexual beings when getting older.

An emergency situation does not mean that we ourselves need to adopt the pain around us. We can let it in, feel empathy, and breathe it through us.

Figuratively speaking, we need to put our own oxygen masks on, before helping others. ]

Loving touch and sexuality are great immunity and happiness boosters.

Pleasure is needed, in emergency times. Lovers continue to make love if they can, babies are born, birds are flying free and happy, flowers grow.

Last Saturday I had 100 people – mostly men – booked for our free webinar ‘Liberate Your Libido’. How can we liberate our libido in lockdown, and why would we even want to?

There is a life after Covid-19. I don’t know about you, but I want to imagine skipping into the sunset, feeling juicy!

Being stopped in our tracks could be exactly the reason we can reconsider what is truly important for us.

Many years ago, I was in a sexless relationship. I have a healthy libido, and I had just never come across a man who deals with his sexuality all by himself, and truly didn’t like partner sex. It was like a chore for him, and he tried to avoid it. At some point in his life, he had decided he was ‘no good’ at it, and had left it at that. ‘Surely we can fix that somehow’, I thought. (Never try to fix your partners, please!!). Meanwhile, I was hoping and suffering. By and by, the situation took its toll. I felt unseen, and something very important in me felt unacknowledged. It took a toll on my self-esteem. It was time to do something. I knew about Tantra and dragged him to a Couples Weekend Retreat. And then another one! He must have loved me very much to step out of his comfort zone to such a degree, and I really want to acknowledge that, too.

For me, Tantra was where it all started. I stepped into my femininity and started to own it, instead of hiding it away. I embarked on a beautiful spiritual journey of heart-opening. It also transformed my relationship, brought intimacy and communication, and owning up to vulnerability, even though it didn’t bring sex back to a degree that I could truly let go, and enjoy.

Fast forward, I met Joseph Kramer, the founder of Sexological Bodywork, started training with him, certified in Sexological Bodywork and Somatic Sex Education, and founded my company Stella With Love.

I know what a difference it can make to be in a happy sexual relationship and to have satisfying solo play, and my endeavour is to bring this to others, too.

This lockdown is an opportunity for many of us to step into new and better ways, involving more of ourselves, and is a chance of taking close look at how we see ourselves because that might determine our actions.

There is no imperative to be sexual, not with your partner, nor with yourself.

I would just invite you to consider if you have decided at some point in your life that there is only this much pleasure available to you, and then left it at that? There may be another way!

I know very happy and loving sexless marriages, with separate bedrooms, where the higher sexed partner engages in regular extensive and satisfying solo play. Did I mention he is in his seventies?

I also know about men well in their seventies who are VERY sexually active, with one, or multiple, partners.

Our sexual journey is ongoing, and I hope that we will continue engaging with it, and find new pleasure zones and preferences all the time, and particularly as we get older.

I think it makes for happier lives to include our sexuality, and to engage with our sexual pleasure, and age is not really an excuse to refrain from it. On the contrary!

Yes, our libido might vary, however, the rule ‘use it, or lose it’ is also true. Body memory fades over time, and it’s good to remind ourselves of the source of so many delicious pleasures.

A lot of men I see in my private practice would like to find a solution for performance issues, and I decided to compile 80% of my tools in an E-book, which is the handbook for my 7-week online course for men. The booking deadline, to include 3 online group coaching calls in May, is Wednesday, May 6th.

The course is aimed at making solo play more satisfying and whole-bodied, falling in love again with your own sexuality, taking pleasure to new dimensions, and transforming your lovemaking skills via pleasure, and staying in the moment, rather than working towards a goal. Particularly, it teaches tools to last longer, because 60% of my male in-person clients would like to learn that, and have more fun in the bedroom.

It’s never too late to reinvent ourselves, and find new bliss – whether solo or with our partners – and we can all do with more pleasure in this long lockdown period! Join us on the journey! A small group of men is taking shape, and I’m looking forward to working with you. More info, and booking, here: https://stellawithlove.com/liberateyourlibido/

Living in London during Lockdown – Sophie Parkin


8 Minute Read

Sophie Parkin is a writer, artist and poet. Her most recent book is A History of Soho’s The Colony Club. She owns an artist club in East London Vout-o-Reenees. During the lockdown, she’s taken to the cocktail shaker. With or without her ex-husband, Jan.

I nearly lost it yesterday. I thought I was enjoying this time. I never seem to have enough time. But suddenly I was mad as hell, I wasn’t going to be able to take it any more, my head was going to explode in frustration. For three and a half hours, I had been trying to sort out my Amazon account as a seller, none of my books was left on sale because my lovely book distributors had closed for the duration.

This was the ideal time to sell books, wasn’t it?

This is when people have time and might actually read my books, or just buy it and look at the pictures. This was an opportunity from nowhere and the one time it happens, none are for sale…. typical!

My final outburst was caused by realising I was shouting at a typing robot. I had to laugh. This wasn’t anything to do with the lockdown getting to me, this is what it’s always like dealing with any of those faceless global brands, any day any year.  So at two in the afternoon, I stopped and had a long soak in a scented bath, washed my hair, did half an hour of meditation and started again.

Discarding my annoyance, I contemplated what I should make of this day? Should I organise another part of my flat, pick up the phone and have one of the many extended catch-ups with friends I don’t see or talk enough to, or repair all the moth holes in my jumpers? Or make marmalade? I could make marmalade with ginger. Rice pudding? Wild garlic pesto.

I have been doing a lot of cooking, not just for me but also for my son Cameron who was between accommodations at Christmas and was looking for a place when this happened. He has been sleeping on a blow-up mattress in the front room of my one-bedroom flat, not ideal but we have a garden so we are blessed. He is a lovely boy of 32. Where did those years go? It is hard for mothers to see their sons as men in these times, which are so much to do with caring and rubbing along in the make-believe of normal family life but none of this is normal. I haven’t spent so much time with him since before he was 12? 8? Played football.

I do find myself sectioning out days to deal with stuff, work. I have a business and the priority is how I’m to keep it running and relevant. Emails to the council, trips onto Gov.UK for latest updates, calls to the accountant, is it worth being furloughed it turns out not -because to be paid by the government as a director of my company I am not allowed to do ANY work from my company accountants of social media or emails. What are they trying to do, kill us all?

For Vout-O-Reenee’s, I keep up the jolliness quota with my silly Vout’s Cocktail Masterclass (Slim Gaillard would have loved these!) – I go to the club once a week to check on paperwork, my ex-husband Jan Vink and the plants, and I make three videos of three drinks and post them through the week. People seem to like them. They are not professional in the least, they have Jan and I back-biting, laughing at each other rather than with, and recall Fanny Craddock and Jonny. Sometimes Jan doesn’t even appear because he’s so annoyed with me! I just thank the Universe that we aren’t still married, otherwise one of us would be a casualty. All it would take is a bottle to the back of the head. This is real life, but is it relevant?

Let's spread Joy…

Geplaatst door Sophie Parkin op Vrijdag 24 april 2020

I keep on coming back to that word; relevant. When I was swept up in how life used to be, the hamster wheel of keeping a business, including an art gallery going; I hadn’t stopped for a long time, certainly not to think about what is and isn’t relevant. Now I think about it almost every day.

The books I thought I would read in an orgy of indulgence – for that is how I saw lockdown like a greedy girl ‘oh good I’ll be able to read…everything!’ – half I have tossed to one side as irrelevant. I find myself going back to the classics – William James, RS Thomas, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus. Essays by Michel de Montaigne. Then searching for things to make me laugh, Dorothy Parker can be a little depressing but I return to Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard To Find, short stories. Black humour seems a little tasteless yet Francis Plug Writer in Residence by Paul Ewan still appeals to me and there’s comfort in Sue Townsend’s The Diaries of Adrian Mole.

There is not enough good writing that makes you howl with laughter. There is too much misery. The largest prize in literature should go to the books that make us laugh, anyone can bring you down with good writing like Karl Ove Knusgaard’s My Struggle but what about his poor kids! Lifting the spirits takes a gargantuan effort that belies its lightness of touch. That’s why there isn’t much comedy on the BBC. I expect it’s too damn difficult.

My mum, Molly Parkin a proud 88-year-old, has been locked in now for six weeks with me visiting for the last two once ever five days. She is full of beans, she laughs from the moment she gets up, to the moment she falls asleep. Last week her activities included putting some eggs onto boil, only to find Steve the fireman waking her up by pummelling the door down. She’d left them a bit too long and they were burning. She still laughed.

When my mother was five she had mastoid and was put into isolation. She expected to be taken by the angels but someone had other ideas. She regularly rings me up and says – ‘Where’s my special delivery chef?’ leaving me concerned that she has discovered Deliveroo, but she’s talking about me and Masterchef in one breath. I cook up a storm and expect it to last, but in one day she’s gobbled it all down. Home cooking, not shopping is the answer to a lot of love at this time. She once gave me the sage advice not to invite any paramours to dinner in my home if I wanted to be taken out to fancy restaurants, and I wasn’t entirely sure of the man.

’Once you get them in the back kitchen and start cooking for them, they’ll never want to go anywhere else.’ She was right. Trying to get my husband to take me out for dinner was like asking for Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond rings!

And what of love? How are you supposed to date? Are couples having sex like never before or in exactly the same way? I doubt with this uncertainty that there will be a baby boom, more time doesn’t always lead to inclination. So it has to be friendship, making each other laugh over the phone or with a WhatsApp message. And I’d just got some super sexy new underwear, damn – my timing is out not just on books. No point in preparing the fire that cannot be lit, let alone stoked for another 3 weeks – with government guidelines.

To laugh and be light in this heavy time is a gift that needs spreading. Forget the conspiracy theories.  Books recommended by members of Vouts include – The Colony Room as an e-book on Kindle (and all my teenage series The Life and Loves of Lily). David Sedaris – Dress Your Children in Corduroy and Denim. Diary of a Nobody by The Grossmith Bros. Pale Fire By Nabokov. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. A fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz. Rude Britannia by Tim Fountain. The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer. Augustus Carp Esq by Henry Howarth Bashford. Money by Martin Amis. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten. Spike Milligan, Anything by Jeffrey Bernard and My Last Breath by Luis Bunuel.

So meditation, acceptance of how it is, cooking with love, and laughter are my answer to getting out of this lockdown alive, What’s the laugh out loud funniest book you’ve ever read and reread during this time? Answers on a postcard…. maybe we can start a book club but only for books that make you laugh.  See you at Vout-o-Reenees.  @Voutoreenees_  @TheStashGallery_London.

Living in London during Lockdown – Hanja Kochansky


1 Minute Read

Eighty-three-year-old Hanja Kochansky is living alone and on lockdown in London. Everyone over the age of 70 has been asked to self-isolate for twelve weeks. But what does that mean exactly? Advantages of Age asked Hanja to tell us what her days are like. And what resources she has.

The word isolated comes from the Latin insula, which means island. And here I am on a desert island in the centre of a densely populated and noiseless city.

As soon as I wake up and turn on my radio, I’m bombarded by terrifying news and a wave of sadness washes over me. Who could have ever imagined that the plague would invade our world? How long will this horror last? Then, I remind myself to take it one day at the time. I tell myself that I am on the retreat I’ve always wanted to take but never did and now it’s been imposed on me.

After a glass of hot water, I go to my computer. Facebook and the Guardian keep my interest up for quite a while. I have a coffee and eat a too large amount of my Digestive Thins before I take a shower.

My daughter WhatsApps me from Long Island. She notices my wet hair and says, ‘I see you’ve had a shower, Mum’. ‘Of course. Why wouldn’t I?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know. I thought maybe you wouldn’t bother, given you’re not going out.’ ‘Of course, I bother. But anyway, I do go out. I’m allowed to do shopping.’ We chat about how awful Trump is, about how we are coping and how is it with the kids at home now. There’s going to be no anticipated graduation for my granddaughter. I was going to go for that in June. All plans are on hold.

I do my exercises. Mostly tai chi and chi kung which I follow on YouTube. On Tuesdays and Fridays, I do a proper class with my tai chi teacher on ZOOM. ZOOM is a marvel.

Given the lovely weather, I go down to my itsy bitsy garden and plant violets and poppies. Poppies remind me of my childhood summers on the Dalmatian coast.

I sing You Belong to Me when I wash my hands. See the pyramids along the Nile, watch the sun-rise on a tropic isle . . .

Avocado on toast is a perfect lunch. Amazon has run out of the organic apple juice I normally have- so I make lemonade with the lemons I got with my last order from Farmdrop. I can get just about anything from them. Organic food, household goods and what-have-you, but I prefer to take a saunter to my well-stocked Waitrose at the Angel in Islington. After all the rain I need to stretch my legs now on these sunny days. I must walk or my legs will lose muscle. On the way, I walk through a park and hug a tree.

My son skypes from Siena, where he is housebound with his wife and two small children. ‘You must not leave the house at all, Ma.’ He warns me. ‘I have friends in London and they can bring you anything you need.’ ‘Thanks, Kas, but I absolutely need to go out.’ ‘If you get sick, Ma, I won’t be able to come and look after you.’ ‘Don’t worry Kas, I don’t think, that after all I’ve gone through in my life, it’s in my karma that I should die here, alone like a dog.’ ‘Oh, I wish you’d stay at home, Ma.’ My worried son insists.

A friend once told me how she’d always felt safe when her husband and two children were all at home in the evening, and nothing bad could happen to them. Only, one night her husband had a heart attack and died. So much for feeling safe at home.

An often-repeated platitude is, ‘We are all in this together’. No, we are not, mate. Some are on luxury yachts, others on ships, boats, overcrowded ferries and dinghies. And some are wading through treacherous seas.

My large sitting-room bay window overlooks a lawn. I watch squirrels scamper as pigeons and magpies peck for food on the green grass, while at the same time, keeping an eye on the self-confident, stalking cats who belong to some of my neighbours whose much anticipated, twice-weekly Bingo in our communal room, is now prohibited. The fox no longer comes in the evenings. I miss her – she kept me in touch with the foxy me.

How are junkies coping without their fix? How are prostitutes surviving without their tricks? I think about the rough sleepers and the old age homes where older people are dying alone. I think about what will happen to the refugees in overcrowded camps when the assassin virus finds them. How terrifying it must be for them. I’m so sad about Italy, il Bel Paese – the beautiful country. Something has shifted. The earth has struck back.

I am, at all times, grateful for my blessed life, with enough money to get by as I reflect on the poverty which will get even worse and financial anxiety will see a flurry of mental illness. As though there isn’t enough of it already. Happy to be on my own, my heart goes out to the overcrowded families who have to learn, or not, to put up with each other day and night. I fear there will be a lot of physically abused women in these tough times. And children.

And what about the thousands on cruise-liners not allowed to dock? Or the ones stuck in other countries who are not able to come home? What will happen to them?

The virus is the revolution. More than a million heroic people have signed up to help the NHS! I was gutted when I found out the dolphin in the Venice canal was an Instagram joke, but the sky is now visible in China, rivers and seas are cleaner, there has been a significant drop in pollution, ozone levels are up. The end of knife crime without Pretty Patel’s intervention is a blessing. I wonder how she feels about the prisoners that are being released. In their case, just goes to show that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on temporary leave from prison in Iran, and there is talk of a possible reprieve. She must be living in a balloon of agitation.

In the afternoons, I write. What better for a writer than a retreat?

Possibly, because I don’t love washing dishes, I don’t feel like cooking much, but I know I have to eat well because healthy food is a must. I make myself a large bowl of fruit and nuts topped with kefir and homemade yoghurt, which I buy from the kind Kurdish shopkeeper near my house on the Caledonian Road. His wife, who makes the yoghurt, has been getting racist abuses, he tells me. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ I say and feel guilty. For what? For the privilege of my white skin.

Maybe I’ll have a glass of wine and eat one of the packets of precooked lentil dahl and spicy beans which only need to be heated. Or maybe I’ll make myself a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich, or dine on fruit: pineapple, mango, apples. And a cookie. I have these delicious salted caramel biscuits and must be careful not to binge on them. I have a feeling that by the time this Groundhog Day is over I’ll have put on weight.

The endless pings on my smart-phone announce constant messages. There’s no time for boredom. There is no shortage of stimulating articles on the computer, and I am addicted to Radio 4, I’m sure to always find something interesting to listen to. Or I can watch a movie on the iPlayer, Amazon, YouTube, Curzon Cinema or BFI. There are myriad choices. This, alas, stops me from reading much of The Leopard, the book I’m currently enjoying.

In the evening I try to do some stretching yoga, but I don’t always manage it.

With another glass of hot water, I take the supplements which I really should take in the morning. Bs, Ds, Cs and what have you.

By midnight, I’m ready to turn off the computer, do my toiletries and get to bed. Before falling asleep, I thank the universe and my angels for another serene day and send white light to the world.

But this is early days and I’m super curious about how I and the world will be changed when the nightmare is over. Hopefully, we’ll have become wiser.

Surprise Me

Hear more from us

Subscribe to our newsletter