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My Voice Lost and Found

6 Minute Read

Some things you just take for granted. Me being able to sing was one. When I was young I was one of those kids that used to get up and sing in front of my parents friends to entertain them. When I was in High School I was chosen to be part of an exclusive group of singers to perform madrigals. For a couple of years a dozen of us would go 'on tour' to Spain or Germany to perform in secondary schools in front of kids our own age. I loved singing those medieval songs almost as much as the mischief I made on those school trips. I remember more than one occasion, stripping off my horrible costume, a tartan floor length A-line skirt and matching waistcoat straight after a concert, and climbing out the hostel window with my friend Laurie so we could go in search of the young men who had come to see us perform.

At University I was rejected from singing with the school’s jazz band because I wasn't doing a music degree and that was the criteria for anyone who wanted to sing with the group. And in my twenties I did lots of session singing, eventually rejoining Laurie and her sister to perform complicated three part harmonies that Laurie had devised as the band ‘The Dirty Blondes.’ We had a blast, singing at various pubs and clubs where I’m sure nobody really knew what to make of three twenty-something young women singing Andrew Sisters and Rogers & Hammerstein tunes when punk was all the rage.

By my late twenties I’d moved on, teaming up with a pianist where we would perform jazz standards for hours in tiny wine bars across the city. Singing and music was in my blood. My mother had sung on the radio as a child. My uncle played drums for Janis Joplin (whom I met when I was 6) and a distant cousin was Stan Getz.

In 1988 I met my husband who was not musical but was a total music geek and photojournalist. Although he was obsessed with music, he could never understand why I would want to sing in some half empty wine bar all evening for the price of a decent steak. So I stopped singing except for humming along to tunes on the radio or a Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald record. I gave birth to a couple of kids, my youngest of whom also inherited the family’s musical gene, and put my own singing years behind me.

It took a trip to Cherry Grove, Fire Island, and a good ten years into my marriage, to re-awaken my voice. I’d gone there with a man with whom I’d been having a long distance affair. He was a born and bred New Yorker and, being August, he suggested we spend a week there to get away from the heat of the city. The place was populated almost exclusively with gay men, so much so that we quickly got a reputation as the only straight people on the Island. It was Friday night when we popped into a piano bar. One after another, guys got up to perform show tunes or jazz standards. They were mostly buff, young men who were taking a break from a Broadway show and so the bar had been set pretty high for me. I hadn’t sung for over a decade but I’d told my lover enough that he knew that with enough provocation, I’d want to have a go.

I’ll never forget that night, I went up to the pianist and said, “My Funny Valentine. Key of G.” He started playing and all those years of being silent just fell away. Suddenly the room grew quiet. When I’d finished, I went to sit down and lots of guys came up to me and asked me where I performed in the city so they could hear me sing again. “I don’t perform,” I said. “I haven’t sung for a decade.” I started to cry. I suppose I felt cheated, that I’d stopped doing something I loved so much, just because my husband thought it was a bit silly. Although I still didn’t return to singing despite feeling validated that evening.

Then the menopause arrived, and along with hot flushes and sleepless nights, I lost my singing voice. When I tried to sing to songs on the radio, all that came out was a strange and unfamiliar croaky sound. I couldn’t hit the notes I used to and I couldn’t find my way around a tune. I grieved the loss of my voice much more than my sex drive or my waistline. Singing was just so much a part of me, I just never thought there would be a time when it was something I could no longer do. I stopped singing along to the radio because it was just too painful and derived pleasure listening on the sly to my youngest son and his beautiful, soulful voice as he sang along to R&B songs in his bedroom.

Over the last year I decided to try something new, I dropped down an octave, sounding more like Barry White than Barbara Streisand. I wasn’t ready to let go of the singer in me and discovered I could still carry a tune despite not being able to hit the high notes,

Recently my friend invited me to a burlesque karaoke night. I didn’t know what to expect but when they passed the book of songs around, I worked out that it wasn’t the burlesque performers who would be singing along to the backing track, it was the audience. After a drink, I decided to have a go. I picked my signature tune and one that I’d sung with the Dirty Blondes thirty years earlier - Fever. I dropped the song by an octave and, recalling that evening in the piano bar in Cherry Grove; I could feel the room go quiet. After I’d finished, a few people came up and told me how good I sounded. At the end of the night, I got back on stage (at the audience’s request) and sang another song. I felt transported back in time, only this time with my new, different voice.

That’s the thing about getting older. It’s about acceptance and celebrating that transition. I won’t lie. It’s been hard getting used to not being able be sing like I used to, but hey - I can still make a room go quiet. And I have a new voice. That is something to relish.

AirBnB Hostess – Heaven or Hell?

1 Minute Read

Back in my 30s, in the late 90s, when I was married (and flush), my husband, two kids and myself would travel to the West Coast of Mexico every year for a three-week Christmas holiday. I loved it there. Lying on the sandy beach, a gentle breeze always in the air, the delicious local food. At the time, Isabel Goldsmith (daughter of Sir James Goldsmith) was garnering some media attention, having built a luxurious 16-room boutique hotel inland called Las Alamandas. Reclining on my sun lounger during those long, hot days, I often daydreamed about such a future for myself. I liked to imagine myself as the hostess with the mostest, running a very small boutique hotel somewhere warm and managing a small team of staff. I imagined each day would go something like this: spend the morning making sure my guests were happy, planning the small menu each night with our resident chef, leaving the rest of my day to read a book and lie in the sun.

Fast forward 20 years and, having been an AirBnB hostess for the past two years; any dreams I had of being a hotelier have been firmly put on the back burner. To those that work tirelessly in the hospitality industry, I have the utmost respect for what you do. This ‘job’ has taught me more about human behavior than any psychology course ever could.

I live in a three bedroom, interior designed flat, a stone’s throw from the Kilburn High Road, which just happens to be off the famous Abbey Road.

Here is my listing:

“Lovely, cosy room just off the Abbey Road and only 2 stops from Euston Station. The West End and trains/buses to East London, Central London and West are all nearby. This is a very quiet flat and the owners work and live there. This room is suitable only for singles due to its size.”

My listing then goes on to say that the room features a comfortable, pull out sofa bed and the guests will have access to a large bathroom with rainwater shower head and the kitchen to make teas/coffees but not to cook breakfast or for lounging. The room also features Wi-Fi and Cat5 cabling for super fast Internet access. The price is £35 per night.

“Gee, isn’t that a bit too cheap?” said a friend of mine when she enquired about the room on behalf of a friend of hers who was visiting London and needed a place to stay.

“Well,” I replied. “It’s a very small room and I’d rather have it booked all the time and turn people away than have empty days. Besides I keep it low to avoid my guests having unrealistic expectations. They pay for a nice, clean (but small) room in a lovely flat and that’s what they get.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve learned it doesn’t actually matter whether one lives in a shoebox or a castle; travellers using AirBnB now demand the same level of service they would have if they were staying in a Hilton. On an average day as a hostess, I might be required to create a day’s sightseeing tour in London, help my guests navigate the transport system plus recommend local restaurants. I have travelled to the nearest chemist open on a Sunday to pick up a prescription when one of my guests inexplicably developed gout overnight. I have shared a bottle of wine with a guest who wanted to tell me of her marriage woes. I am a therapist, a housekeeper and a tour guide all rolled into one.

I have always been a clean and tidy person but being an AirBnB hostess has required me to take my cleaning skills to a whole new level. Take hair, for instance, or rather my futile effort to make sure that there are no traces of it in the bathroom or on my kitchen floor. Every time I host a person with long hair, no matter what shade, my inner ‘neatnik’ goes into overdrive. My bathroom floor and kitchen floor are both laid with pale grey porcelain tiles. Beautiful, yes. Practical, no. Every single hair, every crumb, every piece of fluff is visible and, yes, it drives me crazy. My dustbuster is my new best friend. Who needs a degree when just having a broom and some bleach can earn me enough money to be able to travel and avoid having to take on any client-facing work… just about.

Ninety percent of my guests only stay for a night or two, leaving me little time to get to know them, but there have been a number of amazing people with whom I have kept in touch such as the former high-flying woman physicist, recently retired, who was travelling around Europe on her own for the first time. Or the guy who left his City job to make chili-infused jelly (his mother’s recipe) that he was now selling at food fairs and artisanal grocery stores around the country (and left me with a selection to try). The up and coming pop singer who was playing a gig in town was a sweetheart too, despite forgetting to set her watch to the correct time zone and missing her train.

Then, there is the handful that I would classify as ‘odd’. I’ll never forget the Irish woman, in her mid-30s, and in London for the first time, who drank a full bottle of red, stubbed her rollie out in the hallway and tried to make a pass at my son. Or the Israeli guy who insisted on sleeping with his bedroom door open in just his boxer shorts. My most recent horror was an English guy who showed up four hours late, spilled a full bottle of (thankfully) water on the carpet and then complained that the room had a sofa bed and not a double, although this had been clearly stated no fewer than three times on the website.

I won’t lie. The lack of privacy can be a drag. The walls in my flat are not soundproofed and it’s when I’m in bed, and having sex (a rare enough occurrence) that I really wish I were alone. Lovemaking is often accompanied by the sound of doors opening and closing, footsteps on the stairs outside my room, or muffled chattering. But frankly, it’s a small price to pay for the freedom I have - to do exactly what I want each and every day.

The one-night bookings translate into a lot of washing. I have never done so much laundry in my life. It is not glamorous. I have become very adept at changing duvet covers.

For those considering being an AirBnB host, here are my top tips.

  1. Undercharge to begin with because it’s important to get reviews. This will help move your residence further up the search.
  2. It’s not necessary to offer breakfast or cooking facilities (I don’t) so think about whether you want the additional hassle of having to clean up someone else’s meal (although you can charge for breakfast too).
  3. I use Instant Book which means I don’t get to choose my guests but does mean I get almost 100% occupancy.
  4. Photos are super important – make sure your residence is tidy and take nice pics. It makes a huge difference.
  5. You can choose whether you’re a friendly host or don’t want much contact. If you work from home, I would choose the latter.
  6. If you want to rent out your entire home, you will be limited to 90 days in any one year (in London). The same rule does not apply to individual rooms.
  7. Cleanliness is super important. Stray hairs, full rubbish bins and general untidiness doesn’t really cut it with most guests and will lead to a poor review.
  8. If you have a problem with any of your guests, report it immediately and take photographs to document your evidence. My experience is that the site responds very quickly and will attempt to deal with your problem straightaway.
  9. For those that worry about items getting stolen or hosting weirdos - if my experience is anything to go by, most people are actually very respectful of your space and will go out of their way to be friendly.

If you’re an AirBnb guest:

  1. Never assume your host is a hermit. If you’re going to be late, let your host know. They may be waiting around to let you in so they can go out.
  2. Make sure you’ve read the listing thoroughly so you know what to expect.
  3. Take the sheets off the bed and hand them to your host on departure (not necessary but a lovely gesture).
  4. Try and keep noise to a minimum.
  5. Unless it has been agreed in advance, don’t assume it’s suddenly OK to bring your partner or someone you just picked up in the pub home with you.
  6. In general, treat others with the same respect you’d expect someone to treat you and everyone will get along brilliantly.

Being an AirBnB has its pluses and minuses but, if it’s taught me anything, it’s that I’m not cut out for running a boutique hotel on the Mexican coastline, any other coastline or inland, for that matter. And I look forward to the prospect in a year or two’s time - of being able to rent out my entire flat for months at a time to become location-independent. But, right now, I really must go and take the sheets out of the dryer…

Herstory of the Hot Tub

4 Minute Read

“You’re not planning on getting another hot tub, are you?” my two boys asked me. In unison. It was not so much a question as a plea. You have to understand, my hot tub, or the hot tub I once owned, had a reputation. If that hot tub could talk, oh lord, the stories it could tell. Back in my hedonistic 40s, my hot tub was the scene of more than a few orgies. A round cedar tub of the type you rarely find outside of Southern California, it sat in the corner of my back garden in West Hampstead, overlooked by thirteen windows. That the neighbours used to steal a glance while I was getting it on with two or more men was never in doubt. As an exhibitionist, it was all part of the fun.

Aside from sex, the tub was a place for confessionals. I recall sitting in the hot water with two close girlfriends, crying over a guy who had been cheating on me, while we watched his old jeans burn to a crisp over the BBQ. I wanted to see them go up in smoke just like our relationship.

During my sons’ teenage years, the hot tub was the place we would retreat for difficult discussions. Sitting in hot water definitely helped soften the blow as my boys let off steam and their feelings of anger, often directed towards me.

While for most men I met, being covered by four feet of water, almost always gave them a hard on, despite all academic evidence pointing to the contrary. Not that I minded most of the time.

It was a move to a new flat that prompted the question from my kids. Without asking it directly, what they were really saying was: “Are you ready to give up your crazy life?” I wasn’t sure.

Then the decision was made for me. It was six months after I’d moved into the new flat, on my boyfriend’s birthday. We were at a local pub, getting drunk. I picked up my phone, typing ‘Hot Tub’ into EBay. And there it was, a brand new four seater Jacuzzi, with flashing lights, speakers, a waterfall and loads of jets. The description mentioned something about being shipped from China. The auction was five minutes away from closing and it was £850. I pressed, “buy” and a few minutes later it was mine.

“What are you doing?” he said.

“I just bought a new Jacuzzi,” I replied.

“On my birthday??” he said, as if that special day was somehow reserved only for him.

“Does it really matter what day it is? It’s a Jacuzzi and it was £850!”

As it turned out, it wasn’t really £850. The price did not include installation, something I only thought about when the truck driver dumped it off in my front garden. “How am I going to get it in the back?” I asked him.

“I only have instructions to drop it off. You’ll probably need a crane.”

Meanwhile, the Eastern European builder, working on the flat upstairs was looking at me, taking it all in.

“£200 to move it to the garden?” I said.

“You’re having a laugh. More like £500!” he replied.

“No thanks,” I said.

What then ensued was a week of phone calls. One company told me I’d need to lift it over the house, shut down the road and get a license. The cost? A cool £3,500.

The hot tub supplier said it would be an additional £350 to plumb it in. My cheap hot tub was starting to look like a very reckless and expensive purchase. Eventually I relented, paid the builders £450 and then took a walk while eight of them lifted it over a brick wall into my garden. My friend Anne put it best when I told her: “Third world solutions to first world problems.”

As it turned out my new, modern hot tub, is on its way to acquiring the same mythic status as its predecessor, albeit without the sexual overtones. It turns out shagging while sitting in a plastic bucket seat isn’t easy. (Well, I had to try, didn’t I?) It is the place where Advantages of Age was conceived during one of my monthly gatherings of local girlfriends. Most recently Rose and I held a Hot Tub Salon about Death that we recorded using Facebook Live that has reached almost 3k views. And now that my boys are no longer children, they have come to understand its magnetic pull when attracting the opposite sex or just a bunch of their mates.

The old hot tub was a lot of fun and holds some great memories for me but I have a feeling this new one is pretty special. To the hot tub and all that goes on there. Long may it continue!

You’re never too old to join technology’s bright young things | Business | The Times & The Sunday Times

0 Minute Read

Suzanne Noble admits that some people think she looks more like a technology entrepreneur’s mother than a tech entrepreneur herself. Her 24-year-old son even suggested that he take the helm of her money-saving app to tackle the ageism she has faced.

Ms Noble demurred. “I’ve consciously made a decision to be the person that’s at the front of this because I recognise that without a marketing budget that was going to be the easiest way for me to [attract attention].” But it is a double-edged sword. “I’ve had prospective investors say to me: ‘We wouldn’t normally invest in somebody like you.’ Meaning somebody of your age.”

Read the full story here: You’re never too old to join technology’s bright young things | Business | The Times & The Sunday Times

Random Thoughts on Being a Recent ‘Empty Nester’

4 Minute Read

His ‘care package’ contains a Bluetooth speaker, Green & Black’s dark chocolate and two small, plastic tubs of Ras El Hanout, a spice mix from North Africa. “Honestly, Ras El Hanout?” I text him. “Are you serious?” My eldest son has moved to NYC and this is what he wants.

I am now an empty nester. It’s a moment every parent knows is coming, some with trepidation and others with excitement. I was definitely in the latter camp for most of my years as a parent. It was a running joke in our house that while other parents we knew seemed more than happy to have their offspring at home until they had reached middle-age, I couldn't wait for mine to leave. ‘My room is a bit small,’ my youngest, then nineteen, said when I moved into a new flat three years ago. ‘That’s because it’s not your room,’ I told him. ‘It’s a guest room where you can come and stay from time to time.’ After twenty-two years of being a parent, I thought I was ready to be alone, free of parenting responsibilities and for the chance to do exactly what I wanted 100% of the time. Then I hired my eldest son to work for me. Two years later he was still living at home and my attitude changed.

In the process, we’d become best friends, a fact commonly acknowledged by his mates. We spent more time together building a business than I’d spent with anyone else in my life, partners and parents included. We worked together, ate together and sometimes even bunked off work at 6pm to go to the movies at our local cinema. I’d watched him go from being a spoilt kid with the usual millennial entitlement issues to a confident and responsible man, emotionally mature and self-assured. When he left home I spent the first few weeks bereft, feeling the loss of his presence. His younger brother having made it quite clear to me that he had no intention of moving back home, I was well and truly alone.

Nothing can prepare you for being an ‘empty nester,’ specially if you happen to be a single parent. You can think about it, prepare for it, wonder what it’s going to be like to suddenly be free but until it happens, you don’t know how you’re going to deal with it.

Many books have been written about becoming a parent but virtually nothing can be found in the bookstores about what happens when, suddenly, you are on your own. Parenting never really ends but it changes. Just because you’re no longer buying their clothes or worried about whether they’re going to pass an exam or find friends at their new school, doesn’t mean you’re no longer a parent. It’s just, well, different. Instead of knowing the day to day of your child’s life because their life is entwined with your own, there is now a physical distance between you.

While before you may have caught up with the day’s events over supper, you now find yourself on Skype being shown their new flat or discussing their new job on Whatsapp. Thank heavens for modern technology for helping to bridge the gap.

I have friends my own age with teenagers now moaning about their difficult behavior. I have others whose kids moved out years ago and have been empty nesters for a while. At each stage of parenting there are challenges and adjustments to be made.  The meals I used to make every night for my son and myself now last me two days. I just don’t seem to be able to cook for one. I can’t find or remember the music that he chose every day while we were working together. Having always had someone around, I’m now getting used to ‘me’ time being all the time.

In my case, I’ve found my calendar is much fuller than it was when my kids were around. Friends whom I saw maybe twice a year, I’m now seeing weekly. I’m working harder, with less distraction. I’m watching more TV. I’m thinking more about my life, what I want and how I’m going to get there. It’s an exciting time, a new chapter in my life that feels full of possibility.

I've rediscovered sex. Within weeks of my son moving out, I hooked up with someone who lives nearby. He may not have long-term potential for a variety of reasons but he lives close by, is handsome and kind. More importantly, his kisses make me feel wanted and as a recent empty nester, that’s very important to me.

There is no manual for being an empty nester. Nobody can equip you for it. It was my father who told me, at least ten years ago, to cherish and nurture the relationships with my partner and friends. ‘There’s no point,’ he said, ‘of making your kids the centre of your world because one day they’ll grow up and move out and forget about you.’ His words are not in keeping with modern day parenting attitudes but, now, on my own, they make perfect sense. It’s a new, exciting beginning for me.

AofA People: Suzanne Noble – Founder of Frugl

1 Minute Read

Suzanne Noble is the founder of Frugl, an events discovery app/site for Londoners on a budget to find affordable things to do. She's also the co-founder of Advantages of Age.


NW London

AGE? 55


I feel better all the time. About a year ago I started going to the gym on a more regular basis and the wobbly bits have (almost) disappeared! I feel more confident and generally more comfortable in my own skin than I have at any other point in my life.


Inner calm. I remember my 20s as a time of inner turmoil, constantly thinking about men and what others thought of me, whether I was attractive enough. All that is gone and I can't even begin to tell you what a relief that is.


It plays less and less a part in my life. I had a very active sex life in my 40s so it's not like I feel like I missed out on anything. I still think about it from time to time and even do it occasionally but it's no longer is as important as it once was.


I am loving my female friends. They're funny and smart and we have a blast together. I am ready for a loving relationship with the right man; I just don't have the time right now to concentrate on finding one!


Very. Now that my kids are grown up, my outgoings are very small and that means I can do more of what I enjoy without being too bogged down by money worries. Financial freedom has always been very important to me and still is. The day I was able to chop all my credit cards in half was a magical moment!


Raising two amazing men. I never thought I would make a particularly good parent and I'm constantly surprised at myself for producing two strong, confident, smart and emotionally intelligent boys.


My work. I have reinvented myself a number of times during my life and am now on my fourth (or fifth) career. I like to set goals and reach them. Learning something new every day is important to me.


Hanging out with my family and my friends. I'm pretty much happy all the time; it's just my nature. Life is too short to spend it on being miserable.


Into writing. When I want to express myself, I write. I used to sing but, sadly, I lost my range during the menopause. When I have a bit more time, I would like to take singing lessons to see if I can get some of my vocal ability back. Until then, I write.


Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


I try not to spend too much time thinking about it. I hope for a quick exit.


Yes, mainly bizarre dreams that make no sense to me and which I have often forgotten by the morning. Occasionally, they're sexual. Mostly, they're just surreal.


I spent most of my 40s being outrageous. Now, the closest I get is highlighting my hair pink from time to time. It's a good look.

A View from the Tub

3 Minute Read

An elegant tree-lined road somewhere between Kilburn and West Hampstead, NW6. A hot tub crouching behind one of the unsuspecting white Georgian houses, simmering like a cauldron as one by one, we climb in, armed with wine glasses, week-old cigarettes, Aperol spritz. There are our beach towels hanging poolside on high alert, a saucer to use as an ashtray because the official line is that the hot tub hostess doesn’t smoke. Tentatively, various limbs are negotiated and arranged in the water, drinks poured, fags lit.

Shipped from China by way of eBay and installed into the rather more English back garden by eight local builders, the hot tub in question is a frothing disco diva, her underwater lights alternating red and purple and blue, while the Spotify app serenades us with Donna Summer, Stan Getz.

Winter hot tub evenings are best because it’s dark outside so it doesn’t matter if we’ve shaved recently or not, if we’re wearing our worst, stringiest, mixed-wash-iest swimwear. And it’s bliss to climb in, like a return to the womb, great female company; the warm, massaging jets, a tad mindful of not letting them hit our naughty spots in public. Last year, when the hot tub nights began, we dutifully took turns to undress in the shed (with the sun-loungers) by the ping-pong table, god forbid anyone should see a breast or – horror, worse. Now we don’t care.

We undress into our various bubble-trouble gear - and much later, dress back again into our regular, slightly soggy clothes in the kitchen inside, graced by large, open-shuttered Soho House-esque French windows. If anyone can see in, it doesn’t matter; if we can’t see them, they can’t possibly see us – not without our glasses on at any rate. And anyway, we like our bodies these days, after years of loathing them when our bodies didn’t have these marks, those additional bits. Better late than never.

So here we are, rub-a-dub-dub, four women at a time, five at a push if we rotate and one of us sits out. Welcome to our hot tub soirées; the dark, lathered heart where nothing spoken is off-limits, everything is permitted. We’re a motley crew of writers (all genres), mothers, daughters and lovers. We’re still wearing ‘L’ plates, yet we know what we want. We don’t claim to have any moral high ground, but put together we make perfect sense. Oh yes, and because the hot tub is in London, the neighbours can probably hear.

The view from the tub is distinctly feminine, soft skin, hair (tied up if long,) but unlike many pussy posses, not in the least bit competitive. We talk about what we did today, the films we saw last week, juggling our careers, orgasms real and faked. Then there is the increasing vulnerability of our parents, Death, what we would like to eat for our Last Supper, the most outrageous places we have had sex. We recommend books, art exhibitions to one another, discuss our dreams (we still have them), communal living, why they serve Twiglets at the Groucho. We sort out our other friends’ problems without the friends in question even being present, without them ever knowing they are a topic of heated debate. We try to fix the world.

And while there are most certainly conversations of the ‘what’s said in the hot tub, stays in the hot tub’ ilk, we thought it only fair to invite you to dip in a toe or two and join in.

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