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OLD, OLD, OLD – Let’s Take It Back

1 Minute Read

Old – English ald, of West Germanic origin; related to Dutch oud and German alt, from an Indo-European root meaning ‘adult’, shared by Latin alere ‘nourish’.

I was writing this piece before AoA – Suzanne Noble and I – went to the Byline Festival in East Sussex at the end of August 2018 where we gave a workshop there around the taboos of getting older. A few women participants – one was 64 – were adamant that they were still young. Which propelled me into action again.

I had an age crescendo myself before I had my 60th birthday. A spike, an emergency, a horror story. My internal waters cascaded. My refusal to grow old imploded, exploded and derailed me as a woman. I’d just got used to being post-menopausal, in other words, non-fecund, not so attractive to men as I thought I should be and then along came 59.

The edge, the precipice, the chasm of no-return. Could I be The Fool?

In the tarot deck, The Fool is the major arcana card, which depicts the young man (it should be a woman, of course) with his knapsack and his dainty step right on the edge of the cliff about to step into the Big Unknown. For me, this is the Thelma and Louise moment, the car over the cliff, the new life or the oblivion.

I decided that I would fulsomely fling myself over that edge and welcome OLD. Such a little adjective with so many fears in its sub-textural bag. So many cultural and societal demons entangled and ugly. The sag, the disappearance of desire, the looming energy loss, the not being seen as a desirable woman, the disappearance in the world of work, the atrophied vagina.

NO, I was not going down that waterfall, that cultural fall into darkness and non-existence. That bleak, bleak mid-winter. I was searching for the summer instead.

First of all, I stopped being so quiet about my age. To anyone I thought might miscalculate in the puella aeternus direction. To younger men. I mean who were 50 and might, at a pinch, think I was the same age them. That all stopped.

And on dating sites where fear reigns. Particularly from women. If you are honest about your age, you will only be visually visited by men at least 10 years older than you. Or a lot younger. That was so dispiriting. I raged against this particular dark night but in the end, I gave up lying.


And then I had a huge 60th birthday party. I went the whole hog. Without the pig. Voewood House in Suffolk was the location. A butterfly house architecturally, it turned into my own emergence as elder. Or as older, as Ashton Applewhite, the activist and author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, likes to say so acknowledging that wisdom is not integral to the greater age!! We – there were 40 of us staying in the house and another 30 in B&Bs – danced to all that 70s funk. I did a speech about owning my 60th year. I hate the way so often we British only have a party and are silent about the connotations, the feelings, the meaning in our hearts.

There were performances as gifts. And there was a Rites of Passage ritual on the Sunday morning. That was BIG for me. Co-created (oh no one of those contemporary words) by two of my close women’s group friends, I spent an hour in silence with myself, then I was invited to join the rest of the guests who were in the main hall. Slow, heart-opening music was playing and I found myself in the circle of women dancing with them one by one keeping our eyes in deep contact. Sometimes there was an irreverence as with my old school friend – yep, 45 years – Sarah, sometimes a flowering grace and tears as with psychotherapist, Juliet, sometimes a gorgeous acknowledgement of relationship as with my French friend, Isa and on it went, this womanly interweaving.

And then there was the people-tunnel, many feminine hands caressed me through the decades, softness prevailed and then I was hugging someone at the end, which turned into thunderous tears.

My son. And all that signified. OUR huge love. So gorgeous to be in it and realize whom I was with!! And his male friends at his side, also in so many tears; I savoured every watery, heart-split-open moment. This was being in love.

The men appeared and whisked me into the air. The energy changed. Trust, trust, trust. In their hands and care. That masculine/feminine relationship. I surrendered fully to the carrying, to the being carried. Away.

And then the final stage, crossing the threshold to elderdom – there was a distinct lack of peer elders but one or two appeared, one reluctantly – amid candles to acknowledge this new life stage. I spoke quietly.

Old, I was old and fully there. Now I had the rest of my days to inhabit that previously feared place.

Co-founding Advantages of Age when I was 63 – was another way to relax into this BIG declaration. We’re always saying how old we are, literally.

And it’s such a freedom.

Mary Beard, 64, is the high priestess of OLD. In this social media world, in this age-industry world of chasing young, chasing the lack of lines, the super horn, the porn delusion, Mary Beard is in the public eye looking and being proud of looking her age.


And at the forefront of re-claiming OLD in all its glory, in all its positives as opposed to the disease-laden, hideous beast that it is cast so often to be.

She has declared that OLD should be reclaimed, re-appropriated. Very much in the mode of when the gay community took back queer. And the black community took back nigger. And the BDSM community took back perv.

“I’m rather keen for a campaign to do that for old, instead of ‘old’ instantly connoting the hunched old lady and gentleman on the road sign, or the picture that you get on the adverts you get for senior railcards.

I hope by the time I die, old will be something that makes people fill with pride,” she said in the Telegraph.

In the taking back – the shame, the negativity, the fear melts away.

The Gray Panthers in the US are on the same track. An advocacy group that works on all sorts of anti-ageist campaigns – from highlighting forced retirements to what goes on in care homes – they have peppered their name with a little Black Panther/Gray Panther warfare in the name of activism on the age front.

Already in the UK, a third of the population is over 50. In Japan, it’s a quarter. In the US, it’s a third too. We need to find another way with not just the word old but the fears that it evokes and the results of those fears.

David Weiss, assistant professor of socio-medical sciences and psychology at Columbia University’s Aging Center has identified a phenomenon, he calls Age Disassociation.

“As people grow older, they distance themselves from old age. This behavior maintains ageism and the notion that nobody wants to be old. It’s hard to impose a positive meaning of old age in that case, and potentially difficult to counteract negative age stereotypes.”

Can old become groovy? Yes, it can. Janet Street-Porter is on board and recently wrote an article where she declared: “At 71, I don’t see my world as diminishing, quite the reverse. I see nothing but opportunities and challenges ahead.”

At Advantages of Age, we’re promoting the idea that we can be a funky tribe of oldsters if we want to. The Flamboyance Forever Bus Trips – where groups of us dressed up to the nines in jewels, sequins (hot pants, thanks Serena) and colours gave us the opportunity to thoroughly relish our visibility, verve and hilarity. We also talked to each other a lot, new connections were made. In NYC, we did a smaller Flamboyant Forever outing on the subway. 83-year-old purple-haired and head piece-bedecked Topaz Chanteuse came along in all her dazzling glory. We were transfixed by her spirit of fabulousness. And inspired. At a later date, she showed us her tinsel-adorned walker!

This is the way forward. Not necessarily the flamboyance which is fun, but the attitude of putting ourselves out there and not cow-towing to reductionist age industry-influenced negativity.

In fact, the Office for National Statistics reports that older people are more satisfied with their lives than many other groups. I can’t tell you how relaxed I feel now that I am fully out there age-wise, it makes a huge difference to my life.

So let’s start fully re-claiming old in all its magnificence.

The Ineffability of Ageing

1 Minute Read

I buy a new bra laced with dahlias.
Calvin Klein. Dress is Indian
embroidered olive green silk.
Shepherd’s Bush Market.
Candelabras are cheaply ornate. Car
boot. Oh Lord, teeth have been savaged.
Dental hygienist. Like a slow moving
volcano. My sixtieth.
Pause for thoughts about gifts.
Unwanted. Suggest pies on laps
as they drive to Voewood. Wanted. Funk up
with Prince, George Clinton and Deee-Lite.
The bass. Rachel, formerly of Hard House
at the helm. Home entertainment. La famille
Pougnet divert with a comedic turn.
Love. I show a film – Rose of Life,
eulogy ahead of its time. Useful.
My mother shimmies with her grandson.
Tiger. Crone-new, I am blessed
by the sexiness of my revellers. Bingo.

The Death Dinner – Opening up the Last Taboo

5 Minute Read

‘After the soaring, a peace
like swans settling on a lake.
After the tumult and the roaring winds,

Sheila Kitzinger, the natural childbirth activist who died in 2015

I am 64, and entering into the terrain of my own drawing-closer mortality – yet talking about death is still forbidden. Sex is so much more out in the open. Death is the last taboo. We do not talk about dying, how we’d like to die, or how others have died.

Last October, my mum nearly died of sepsis – her organs had begun to close down but being the 90-year-old Yorkshire woman she was and still is, she battled through – and then by chance, I saw there was a death café at the Dissenter’s Chapel in Kensal Green Cemetery as part of their October Month of the Dead.

I invited a close friend who presumed erroneously that Death was the incidental name of a café, and that we were meeting for Saturday morning tea and a natter. Instead we found ourselves in a circle of twelve discussing – the feelings that are evoked when a family member dies, the nature of a good death and different funereal rituals.

It was simply incredible to have this space to reflect on death and dying. There was a palpable sense of closeness and connection between us all at the end. Amanda and I definitely felt more alive as a result of the extraordinary conversations. One man admitted he’d never really expressed the grief around his mother dying. Another woman talked about the terrible suicide of someone close to her in detail. There was the death/life paradox in action. Plus it took place in this simple chapel created for non-conformists in 1834. Perfect. It sounds weird to say but we loved it, and vowed we would visit more. Forget bars and restaurants, death cafes are the place for truly, deeply, madly meeting.

A few months later, I found myself having the idea – we’d already featured a couple of fiercely brave pieces of writing about death, My First Death by Lena Semaan who told us about her friend, Bob, who had been terminally ill and courageously took the act of dying into his own hands, plus Dreaming of Death by Caroline Bobby who has been in an intimate relationship with death since she was young – for a Death Dinner as part of our OUTage series of events supported by the Arts Council. It would also take place at the Dissenter’s Chapel. The aim was to invite ten people from Deathworld – from mortician and author Carla Valentine to Soul Midwife Patrick Ardagh-Walter, to academic and expert in death rituals, Professor Douglas Davies to coffin plate aficionado, Hannah Gosh who happens to have a tattoo of one on her leg – to dialogue openly about their interests in death and dying, then dig a little deeper. We, at Advantages of Age, are keen to open up this last taboo as well as helping to form a Death Community, supporting the Assisted Dying movement, and also facing the nitty gritty of what we might personally want in terms death and dying.

I also thought it would be fascinating to invite the guests to come dressed as they would like to be buried or burnt. As well to bring objects with them that they’d like to go alongside them on the onward journey. This personal DeathStyle fascinated me.

Our aim was to turn the death stereotypes on their head. The guests arrived to a big red neon sign declaring Welcome to Death and then had their photos taken in or out of a deliberately kitsch Lachapelle-influenced gold frame with a leopard skin backdrop! Of course, not everyone was so keen to be snapped in this Day of the Dead type Momento Mori and we let them off the hook. Professor Davies wore his grey suit but had a rather extravagant cravat with it. Patrick, the soul midwife, was in his suit and photographed with his white miniature rose, the object he had chosen to take with him into the next world, which he felt crossed over between earth and spirit, a living rose. Others were keener to step into the frame, Liz Rothschild who runs a woodland burial ground, had turned up in her cream nightie and had chocolates to munch in the after-life. Suzanne, co-founder of Advantages of Age, was wearing a sexy scarlet dress clasping a photo of her beloved boys. Caroline Rosie Dent dazzled with her gold and black Victorian dress, black shawl and headband covered with ivory roses. In fact, she was the style star of the Death Dinner.

Everyone was welcomed over that liminal threshold into Deathland by the Queen of the Night (Ingrid Stone), all in white, of course, rather than black, with her purifying burning sage sticks. In silence, we made our way to our seats at the table accompanied by the haunting, ethereal sounds of Fran Loze’s cello. An abundant feast – from tomato and goats’ cheese tartlets to Parma ham and the remarkable broken heart cake – had been prepared by Caroline Bobby, our magnificent cook and a guest.

During the first half of the dinner, I invited the guests to tell us a little about their relationship with death and how they were linked to Deathworld.

Charlie Phillips, photographer, has documented Afro-Caribbean funerals at Kensal Green cemetery for years. He explained how Afro-Caribbean funerals are changing and that the emphasis is on paying out a lot of money and having songs like Do It My Way by Frank Sinatra these days. He had brought along his camera, of course, as his death object because apparently he is referred to as ‘the dead man photographer’.

Liz Rothschild is a celebrant, started the Kicking the Bucket Festival in Oxford, owns a woodland burial ground and has a show called Out Of The Box about death. Liz explained how when a friend of hers died, her group of friends gathered in such an intimate DIY way, it inspired her to want to support others create this kind of a ceremony.

Hannah Gosh makes modern mourning jewelry and told us why she is so taken with coffin plates. She had also brought along a pug’s skull as her object, but not her pug’s skull!

Caroline Rosie Dent is an end of life doula and a death café host, she told us about her death anxiety as a child, and why she’d brought along a part of her son’s umbilical cord to take with her on the ancestral trip.

John Constable aka John Crow wrote The Southwark Mysteries, a series of poems which became a play. It is the story of the Winchester Goose, one of the medieval sex workers in the area who were condoned by the Bishop of Winchester but forced to have unconsecrated graves. John has been a campaigner around the Cross Bones graveyard for many years and holds a monthly vigil there on the 23rd of every month.

Caroline Bobby is a writer, cook, erotic healer and psychotherapist. She had brought with her The Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen and her favoured piece of fine woolen cloth, that she would like to be wrapped in when she goes. She sees herself becoming ash and being blown away.

Patrick Ardagh-Walter is a soul midwife, which he describes as being simply alongside someone as they approach this last stage of their lives.

Carla Valentine is an author, mortician and the Technical Assistant Curator at Barts Pathology Museum where she looks after 5,000 body parts in bottles. She describes herself as being quite an unusual child who was interested in death and whose grandfather died when she was seven, in front of her.

Professor David Davies lectures in Death Studies, his most recent book is Mors Britannica: Lifestyle and Death-Style in Britain Today. He explained that he’s fascinated by different groups and their attitudes to death, some like their lives and deaths to cohere, others are just the opposite. He said he hadn’t brought an object because he’s never thought of having an object with him at that time.

Liz Hoggard is a journalist who admits to feeling like a bit of a death tourist in our midst. She sports pearls that might act as some sort of collateral in a future existence and has brought along two lipsticks, one of them is black, the other red. Max Ernst described the latter apparently as ‘the red badge of courage’.

During the break, we listen to Caroline Bobby’s recorded version of her piece, Dreaming of Death. It is precious and moving. In it, she says: ‘I don’t know if I long for death just because living with baseline depression is unforgiving, and every morning is a shock. I don’t think it’s just that. This human and embodied world has never, quite felt like my natural habitat. At a cellular level I am aching to go home.’


After this raw and vulnerable piece, we entered a discussion about death led by Suzanne. We looked at whether there is a revolution in death going on, whether death is really trending, how we could welcome death into our daily lives in conversation and what sort of funerals we would like. Some of it was funny, other parts were poignant. Professor Douglas Davies declared controversially that the only revolution going on is amongst middle-class women. ‘The Death Chattering classes,’ he asserted.

Finally, Charlie Phillips declared that ideally, he would go while making love. And that he’d like ‘Lucky Motherfucker’ on his gravestone as well as ‘Came and Went at the same time’. As you can imagine, laughter rippled through the chapel.

I announced that natural birth activist and then death activist, Sheila Kitzinger had inspired me. She had a death plan, managed to stay at home to die surrounded by her close family despite doctors trying to get her to hospital because she had cancer, then she was put in a simple cardboard coffin decorated by family and friends, and eventually taken in the back of a car for a small woodland burial. The more flamboyant memorial service came later.

Son – take note!

Death Dinner will be screened for the first time tonight – 6.30pm at Barts Pathology Museum, E2.

La Tempête

1 Minute Read

Napoleon planted these pines,

the soil is sandy but not a beach.

I want to lie down,

stare upwards like a child

who hasn’t had enough clouds.

The watery landscape keeps me upright.

On cherche les oiseaux,

mais on n’entend que les chants.

The sky deceives itself.

We talk (my French friends and I)

about how to inhabit the truth,

to sink our teeth into ice-cream

without fear of incrimination or shame.

We sit with gratitude on a fallen trunk,

taste different sorts of apples,

note the sour and sweet preponderances.


There is an ending amid a swamp,

tears escape in a storm.

Brambles, bare feet, endless water.

I am scared.

My friends, my parents become.

This vulnerability is unmapped.

Poetry – how writing keeps me kicking up

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‘For a poem to emerge properly, you have to avoid confronting it. You have to keep it in sight without looking at it directly.’ Fiona Sampson, poet, in Mslexia

Twelve years ago, I’d never written a poem. I wasn’t – so many say this – one of those people who started writing poems in their teens. At the time, I was a journalist whose paid work – the internet and falling sales of newspapers – was on the wane. I was unsettled, gloomy and undermined.

I decided radical action was needed on the writing front. I have always been a fan of lyrical language so I decided to try out writing poems. I knew – and this is key – that writing poetry was never going to earn me my daily bread but I wanted to do it for love. I had been on the hamster wheel of feature editors’ ever-narrowing commissions and instructions, this way I would re-discover writerly freedom.

Not that I expected it to be easy. I was in for the long haul. I signed up to City Lit’s Beginner’s course with contemporary poet, John Stammers at the helm. I’d never heard of him. His collection Stolen Love Behaviour had just come out and I devoured its post-modern bite. Here were poems that were crafted to the hilt, witty and John’s degree in philosophy drove the undertow.

Through John, I discovered so many poets – from Wallace Stevens to Clare Pollard – but most importantly, and this is a rare feature, I found out that John can actually pinpoint what works and doesn’t work in his pupils’ poems. Over the years, this has been such a boon as well as a pain.

For a long long time, my poems were embarrassingly bad. I’d have a few sizzling one liners, or a good title here and there but the struggle to write a decent poem was arduous and humbling. Luckily, I expected the climb to be arduous and was willing to plod on.

Christian Palen
Rose Rouse by Christian Palen

What is a good poem? Ah ha, there is the subject of many a book and author. Basically the content should be fresh, the voice should belong to that poet alone, the attitude should be ‘show rather than tell’ (ie cut out any of those literal lines), a big no to the overly poetic (John has a list of forbidden words and they include iridescence and meniscus!) and then the most difficult, something should emerge magically without the poet even knowing. Helen Mort who is well-known in the poetry world, has just won the Mslexia (a magazine for women who write) poetry prize and the judge, Sinead Morrissey said; ‘there’s a vortex in the middle of it that works like a spell.’ Exactly.

Funnily enough, I am still in one of John’s groups, now an invitation-only one with some damn fine poets – including Barbara Marsh, Judy Brown and Beatrice Garland who all have collections out, won poetry prizes and more. Wednesday afternoon is often the high point of the week for me. We meet in Covent Garden above a pub in Betterton Street while the Poetry Society does its refurbishment re The Poetry Studio.

The format is like this. We hardly ever discuss our personal lives. Only through the poems. John brings in three poems as photocopies, he doesn’t tell us who the poet is. He reads the first one and then we analyse/criticize them. He will bring in these poems for all sorts of reasons – they are badly edited, they have something but not everything, they sing with edge and vim etc – and we are in constant pursuit of what makes a good poem. This is a life’s work!

In the second half, we hand out photocopies of our own new poems to the group, read it out aloud to them and then stay silent while they discuss every aspect in terms of meaning and structure. I have squirmed many times in this position as it became apparent that my new poem didn’t make sense, was overegged – I have a proclivity in this direction – and just plainly did not work. Oh the ignoble position of the bad poet!

However, over the years, I’ve been in this group for five years – we published a group pamphlet Sounds of the Front Door in 2014 – my embarrassment has subsided and I now relish their comments even when they are constructively ruthless. Because that’s exactly what my poems need ie outside voices looking in.

In January, I’d just come back from post-Castro Cuba and written a poem Finding My Inner Orisha. A lot of it was in Spanish and through the group, I learnt that actually there was too much for people to understand so they suggested that I translate lines in both Spanish and English. I have now done that and hope it lends an incantatory aspect to the poem. Although I also decided that I didn’t want to do it all in that way as that was too much. The poet always has the last word. Although as we often discuss when reading other poets’ work, a good editor is also worth their weight in gold.

Killing your own darlings is such a useful lesson in life as well as poetry. Poets often have a proclivity towards something that takes them out of balance. Personally, I go for florid language and this can be so easily overdone. Restraint is needed. Going to The Group helps me refine my own editing skills. If I see that extra ‘fecund’, then I force myself to remove it.

This year, I found a publisher for my first poetry pamphlet – 20 poems and these days often called a chapbook – Tantric Goddess at the age of 64. It’s never too late to start. And I’m not giving up now, I intend to get a collection – around 60 poems – together next.

Tantric Goddess is published on Eyewear.

Tantric Goddess

Flamboyance Forever!

1 Minute Read

Flamboyance has always attracted me and as I get older, the attraction gets stronger. The etymology goes back to the Old French ‘flambe’ – a flame. Exactly. There’s a burning about Flamboyance that is almost primal for me. I want to burn in exactly that way. There’s a romance to it too.

The joy of flamboyance as we get older is that it is truly ageless and keeps us ageless.

Of course for me, the invitation to be flamboyant is about NOT following fashion but striking a pose apart. A flourish here, a bright colour there, flowers in my hair, hand-made head dresses, feathers and more feathers, flounces on a flamenco dress specially made by a seamstress – over the years, I have devoted time to flamboyance.

And for me, there is a political aspect to it, I do not want to subscribe to the commercialism of the fashion, the market-driven wants of labels and seasonal trends. Many of my more outré clothes have been in my wardrobe for years and I still wear them.

Last Saturday, on the Advantages of Age OUTAGEous Stylista bus tour of London, I was sporting the green organza dress that I had made for my 50th birthday. It feels special to be still enjoying it at 64.

It was such a delight to create – with Suzanne Noble – this bus tour where we invited you, all the ‘flamboyants’ out there, to join us on this Flamboyant Forever adventure. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when I arrived at Sloane Sq to find a gathering of extravagantly bedecked human birds ready to add sparkle to a rainy afternoon.

My eyes were in perpetual wander and wonder. Simultaneously. There was a woman in the brightest of pinks with a matching umbrella. There was a couple – he was wearing a small African hat and striped light pink jacket, she was wearing a marvel of a hat with a maroon jacket. They were quintessentially Advanced Style. And then, there were Serena Constance’s blue sequin hot pants. Envy. Oh and Oh. There was Raga Woods with what looked like a multi-coloured Nepalese headdress but I’m sure was hand-made, she had even brought her own shamanic rather large wooden totem along. 

There were wild colours and a complete lack of bland. Nothing tame in sight. Suzanne – in flowing vintage with pink bows and a matching umbrella doing her Southern Belle look – and I were besides ourselves with excitement at the way people had tuned in and so turned on to the wilder shores of eccentricity.

Not to mention Johnny Blue Eyes aka Betsy who was rocking the highest of heels, the red demon cum Leigh Bowery neon face adornments and his customary OUTRAGEousness in excelsis. Unstoppable. Unrestrainable. Shouts of “Woo” and “Fuck Fashion” from the top of the open deck bus.

As we filled the bus so divinely – there were 75 of us between 45 and 80, and it turns out there is a Meet Up called Colour Walk which encourages people to dress up and parade, so some of their members had found us – it became obvious that Flamboyance is so much more than a stylistic flourish, that it is also a way in to connection, to finding like-minds – to COMMUNITY. I sensed the hunger for this sort of community. Basically a desire to find other people who are getting older with attitude.

It was no coincidence that we strutted our stuff outside Vivienne Westwood’s World’s End.

On the bus, the conversations simply cascaded forth – about flamboyant funerals, about the Hot Blushes (Hot Gossip now), about the Chelsea Arts Club parade, about what freedom means as you get older, about each other’s outfits, about how they’d found this event. People loved getting to know each other.

It rained, we fled downstairs, it became dry again, we shouted from the top deck particularly as we went through Knightbridge. People smiled, waved, workmen honked. We got out and danced at Speaker’s Corner. Johnny writhed. There was laughter and more laughter.

We were a carnival of funk and OUTAGEousness.

Kate Monro, on Instagram for AoA, put it succinctly: “It’s as if the narrative around middle/old age got stuck, quite literally in the middle ages. No one really relates to it and you’re helping re-set the groove!

I loved the whole energy of the day and the sense of freedom in redefining what it means to be older. So many interesting conversations.”

Many thanks to Arts Council England for their support in making this event happen.

The Woman Who Wore Wings

1 Minute Read

i.m. Sarah’s mum

Stella hailed from startleland,
uneven terrain was welcomed.
She’d entertain with the intimate habits
of the stag beetle, probe my knowledge
of ‘Cargador de Flores’ by Diego Rivera,
demand to be spoken to in French.

La vedette made the everyday
into theatre. Did I mention
the Lalique obsession and the birdsong clock?
She looked out onto her Dali-esque garden,
refused to see the watery moon,
her eyes forever fixed on the silver feather tree.

AofA People: Rose Rouse – Co-Founder Advantages of Age, Poet, Journalist, PR

1 Minute Read

Rose Rouse, 64, is the co-founder and editor of Advantages of Age, poet, journalist and PR, On June 11th, her first poetry pamphlet Tantric Goddess is published on Eyewear. She says she sees herself as a sex and death activist. As well as an inveterate feather wearer.


Rose Rouse




London, UK


Co-founder of AoA, journalist, poet, PR and wild dancer when I get the opportunity.


It’s a surprise really. After the dread of being Saga-bait 50, post-60 has brought an unexpected blooming. I had a crisis when I was in my mid-50s. Freelance journalism seriously diminished. Ever tenacious, even I had to surrender and ultimately change. I was resistant but in the freeing up – I started earning money from doing press instead – I was ultimately able to be more creative. I started writing poetry and devoting an afternoon a week to this pursuit. I started writing the sort of non-fiction books that are long winding projects rather than deadlined commissions. I am at present working on UNsung London, a series of walks in unfashionable places with unlikely characters. I have already marched from Hackney Wick to Beckton Sewage Works with Billy Bragg, shopped Southall with Andrew Logan, visited new Haggerston estates with director, Andrea Zimmerman, explored Roman London with writer, Charlotte Higgins and more. I have also made a couple of dance films (I am fortunate in having a film maker son) Dance Willesden Junction and Dance Harlesden where I persuaded a little tribe of my friends to bring intimacy in the form of dance to the heart of Harlesden, not to mention the railway station.

And I edit AoA which is a pure delight. I encourage people to write for our magazine with the intention of challenging and bringing new ideas to this significant arena around growing older, and create conversations about the taboo stuff like sex, relationships and death as well. For me, a veteran rebel, this magazine brings oodles of pleasure.

At the moment, Suzanne Noble and I are in the midst of putting on a series of Arts Council funded events and performances called The OUTAGE series. The first was the Death Dinner which comprised twelve Deathworld people – from groovy pathologist, Carla Valentine who also has a column in the Guardian, to Professor Douglas Davies from Durham University who is an expert on Death Rituals in the UK, and Liz Rothschild who runs a woodland burial ground in Oxfordshire, is founder of the Kicking The Bucket Festival, a celebrant and performer – telling us about their death game in various moving, poignant, funny ways. This was filmed and will become an hour long documentary. The aim is to contribute to the opening up of dialogue and information around death.

The second OUTAGE event will be Taboo Night on June 24th at Vout-o-Renees in London where we will explore the taboos around getting older – from menopause to lack of erections to online dating to mutton style – through poetry, performance, tales and music.


I remember being really embarrassed at 25 at my lack of worldly knowledge about the arts, history etc, I have a bit more of that which is a relief. I have some firm foundations in having a son, and a partner, plus well-established friends. That makes me feel infinitely rich. I am seen for who I truly am with all the shady parts too.


Making love, sensuality, explorations. I feel passionately that you can have a brilliant sex life as you grow older. I’m a bit of a sex activist. When I hear people sigh and say: ‘I haven’t got the energy these days’, I think you don’t need the energy, just the willingness to adventure in a different way. In my 50s, I was single. I signed up to Guardian Soulmates, it was hard work. Maybe I had sex a few times through that avenue. However I also did Tantra courses and learnt about boundaries. But mainly I discovered that I could have gorgeous, intimate relationships with my women friends. I was happily independent.

And when I was 60, I found a partner through a personal development workshop. But I had worked hard that year to invoke this potential partner. Luckily we are both sexual explorers. Which helps us keep it all alive. We have learnt not to be so restricted in our descriptions of what sex is. Sex can be stroking the other person’s back. Or dancing naked together.


I am an eager student of relationship. Still. The learning never stops. One of my favoured places is in a group where process can take place. This is challenging and nurturing at the same time. And a creative, dynamic one for me. My friendships with women are hugely important. I have found women friends with whom I don’t have to lie about anything. I can reveal shame, embarrassment, jealousy, everything. It is such a liberation. I feel that these relationships will always be with me. And I am a fan of intergenerational friendships, not just my age group.

My relationship with my son is the one I feel the proudest of. We are in tune in so many ways. Especially around ideas, politics and emotional matters. I love that he trusts me enough to tell me when he’s hurting. I love the bravery of young and older men.

My relationship with my mother has changed beyond all recognition. She has Alzheimer’s and we have the best relationship now. She has become sweeter. Me too. It has been a healing trip. So lovely that she trusts me now.

My relationship with my man. I am blessed with a man who can show his feelings. We can talk. And we both eventually show vulnerability. It’s actually harder for me. I appreciate his willingness to stand in the fire with me. And the twists and turns along the way.


It’s not freedom that is important to me, it’s actually safety. I have always been freelance, a single mother etc. I’ve fought for freedom, but it was the safety that was harder to attain. Both in partnership and in a financial sense. I feel much safer at the moment. Which is great. Not of course that I have anything like retirement funds.


My relationship with my son. It’s so different from my relationship with my parents. I love that feeling of unconditional, tigress love.


Keeping on meeting and talking to different people with different ideas. Keeping on reading. Being open to the new. Curiosity.


Doing simple stuff. Walking on the beach at Borth y Gest with Asanga and his wanderlust dog, Poppy. She’s actually run off somewhere but we’re not worried. Going down Columbia Rd market with Amanda, one of my best friends. Pottering around in my garden. Sitting in bed writing a new poem.


In lots of different directions from AoA to dance to poetry to new books to group processes to cooking up ideas for projects.


Get involved. Stand up for what you believe in. At the moment, I am active in supporting Jeremy Corbyn because I believe that he honestly wants to bring a fairer, more equal society that will help the vulnerable. Showing up for my friends, family, loved ones. To be unafraid of the shadows and to welcome love.


I feel as though I am a beginner here. But I am thinking about death and how that could be better for everyone. And opening up the dialogue.


Dreaming is one of my favourite pursuits, often on motorways when driving. Somehow there is the space to dream.


For me an outrageous action is turning down the opportunity to be outrageous. To hide a little. I’m hiding now.

The Importance of Female Friends

7 Minute Read

‘We increasingly seek more complex and subtle imaginative explorations of identity than societal expectations of gender.’  Alex Clark.

I truly discovered the importance of female friendship in my 50s. Post-splitting up with the father of my son at 43 – I’m 64 now – I tipped myself in a giddy stream of unsuitable men. I had female friends but my main focus was men.

In my tender little heart, I distrusted women friends to truly be at my side. Yes, yes, there were reasons that go back to my mother but I’m not going to dwell in that arena. The turning point was a workshop that I went to in 2006 over New Year run by that marvel of a Tantra teacher, Jan Day.

Actually, I went with the intention of being bold with men. I had become inhibited by hurt. It was time to step into the chasm of chance and chaos again. To literally get naked in the pursuit of sensual practice. To launch myself into dangerous but potentially rich experiential waters. And I did do all of that. There was flirting wildly – why can’t we have more flirting in this country, the playfulness of it makes everyone feel so alive – I remember sitting in the Jacuzzi exchanging fruity sexual fantasies with a couple of men. The view out over the frosted Somerset fairyland enhanced this rare pleasure. In the workshop itself, there was explorative touch – to discover what we liked or didn’t – and even kissing. And heart-open sharing. I was in mid-love addiction with an old neighbour who was less likely to share his love with me than a stone in the road. And yet I had been persisting. A fatal sign of co-dependency.

Funnily enough, the outcome of this workshop was a deep friendship with a woman. Not that this seemed on the cards at the time. I was 16 years older than her. She worked as an HR executive for a massive pharmaceutical company. We really had nothing in common. And yet, we found ourselves going off to another week’s workshop with Jan Day that Easter. It was called Living Tantra 1, was 7 days long and a deep immersion into sexual healing. And goodness knows, I needed that. With or without Marvin.

Jayne and I shared a dormitory with four other women. We were a gang of the heart. It wasn’t about gossiping. Well, there was some banter. It was about tears, exploring, risk-taking and laughing. While the workshop was about learning where our touch boundaries were, then being able to speak them and practice non-sexual loving touch. Jayne and I were transported into a new land, one where we both felt we were able to be our best selves. Oh, that is such an exquisite pleasure. And is often the case when in service to others. In this instance, sexual and spiritual service at the same time.

I felt expanded, expansive, on the high of a community that flowed with open love and touch in a safe but exciting way. Afterwards, I didn’t want to live within the confines of my shame and silence ever again. I was deluded about this man, and significantly, I hadn’t been talking about it. The thick carapace of this delusion was heavy. Never again. During the workshop, I confessed. No more dark dreams for me. Of course, it wasn’t as easy as that, but that was a good start.

It was an incredible week. And what came out of it was a mini Women’s Group.

Three of us – Jayne, me and another Jane – met up and spoke about our lives in a way that was more vulnerable and emotionally expressive than I’d ever felt safe enough to be. It felt rich, if a little forced at times. Having to cry can feel as restrictive as having to keep a stiff upper lip. Orthodoxies spring up everywhere.

Next came the Wild Women, which of course, was experimental, explorative and fun. There were six of us – Louise, two Carolines, one Jayne, Helen and me. We drank champagne, listened to each other in a sharing circle, ate gorgeous food, spent weekends entwined in an ever-growing closeness that we liked to call into-me-see. Sometimes we did all of these activities at the same time. Formal structure and boundaries were not our strong point. So it wasn’t surprising that our Wild Women group combusted in a firestorm of sensuality and conflict after a dramatic eighteen months. It was not constructed to last. There was heaven and hell while it lasted.

Finally, there was the Women’s Group, which I was in for six years. There were about ten of us, we met once a month for the afternoon, we had a strong structure at first, which contained us and enabled the trust to grow. After a year or so, we became a little looser. We didn’t just share in silence, we could ask for feedback and we learnt to give it sensitively. With a few huge gaffes along the way.

We rotated being hostess and therefore our location.

The hostess decided on the ‘colour’ of the proceedings, whether we danced to get into our bodies and out of our heads, or sat silently at the beginning. Also any extra structures like nurturing touch. The hostess also made some soup. Everyone else brought fruit, chocolate, nuts etc. Most importantly, we shared the depths of our lives here, we could say anything, be it angry or sad or joyful. We were free to speak what was really going on with us. No holds barred and very safely held by the rest of the group. It was a place to be as real as we were capable of being. There was challenge and there was sweetness

Jayne and I went through all of this together and it has lent a profound connection to our friendship. For me, it was incredibly important – after I first got to know her in that second Jan Day workshop – that I could admit everything to her. I knew she wasn’t going to judge me but rather witness my sorrow, pain or shame with love and affection.

I truly felt her compassion and understanding in a sensitive place that had never been properly mothered. It felt peaceful and quiet and gentle. And oh so new. It led to me trusting other women with more of me. The less bouncy sides. The nooks and crannies that I never normally exposed to that sort of sisterly light.

This experience of womanly love has changed me. Because now I know I will never be without this support. And I will never have to lie to myself again. And feel so ashamed. Only today, I went to a new dentist and discovered that my mouth was full of gum disease. I was horrified. My former dentist hadn’t told me.

I felt ashamed of myself for not being better at dental hygiene. How could this have happened? But instead of hiding away, I told three women friends. And none of them judged me for it. I didn’t feel criticized. I felt supported. Which helped me move smoothly into a place of acceptance and action. Yes, I have to face this and get into daily dental action and have some expensive periodontal work. And I am doing it.

I have a partner now – I was single when I went to those workshops – but I know my close women friends will always be there for me. As I will be for them. These relationships hold the longevity that a relationship with a beloved may not. This foundation, this knowledge of each other keeps on growing. It means that I will never be afraid to break a relationship that I think is unhealthy, and that feels mighty powerful.

Women friends – you are a boon and a blessing. Thank you.


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