Sally Brockway, aged 53, talks about her new online course, Social Media for Mid-Lifers.
When I set up my own PR agency back in November 2016 and started looking for business, I was astounded by the number of highly motivated, intelligent and successful entrepreneurs I met who had no social media presence.
They were mostly over the age of 40 and the very mention of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram was enough to bring them out in a cold sweat. They could just about handle paying somebody to create a website for their business, but had decided that social media was for the kids.
It’s not and to prove a point, I devised an online course about social media for people like me who once used a landline to arrange dates, read newspapers made of actual paper and think that wearing a coat when it’s really cold is a sensible decision.
50% of the UK population use social media in some form or other, so why would you choose to be in the half that’s missing out?
I met a business owner the other day whose 87-year-old mother gets her daily news fix from Twitter. She still can’t get over the fact that she knows about stuff a good 24 hours before it appears in the papers.
If the trains are up the spout, your best friend is running a marathon for charity or you are fascinated by soap carving, then social media will give you all the information you need and allow you to make connections with the right people at lightening speed.
My course, which is called Social Media for Mid-Lifers, covers the basics. It will show you how to set up accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I show you around the platforms and explain how to post text, pictures and video. If you really want to impress the kids, I also explain how you can access GIFs (animated sequences), run polls and post a boomerang – not a strange wooden object commonly found in Australia, but a video loop that is all the rage on Instagram.
Many of the older people I meet worry about the lack of privacy on social media, but the fact is, you only post what you want to. You can choose your friends on Facebook and you can decide who will see each individual post. My mum lives in New Zealand for six months of the year, so I often put up family pictures that only she can see, as I don’t want to bore the rest of my social circle with constant news of my children’s achievements.
You can also make your Instagram account private so that only followers that you approve can see your posts and you can do the same with Twitter – I show you how to do this on the course and it takes seconds.
You don’t need to use all three of these platforms, it depends on what you are looking for. I first discovered social media when I did some shifts at TV Times magazine. One of the young reporters was always on Facebook and I was curious. Initially, it seemed like such an alien concept. Why on earth would you want to tell everybody what you’ve had for lunch and where you’re going on holiday?
But then people I knew started signing up and soon everyone was talking about it, so I created a Facebook account. I haven’t looked back. I’ve made contact with long lost school friends, stalked ex-boyfriends and spent hours looking at cat videos and I don’t even like cats!
Next, I signed up to Twitter and loved the way I could watch news unfold as it happened and see what people were saying about my favourite TV shows as I watched them.
I was a reluctant Instagrammer, but when I started selling pop-up greetings cards as a sideline, I decided I’d have to get on board. Instagram is a visual platform – you have to post videos or pictures and you also need to get your head around hashtags. In case you are wondering, this # is a hashtag and it’s simply a symbol that enables you to search for posts on a specific topic.
That’s something I talk about in the course and I also give a quick guided tour of a site called Hashtagify.me, which analyses your hashtags to see how effective they are.
My course consists of 33 video tutorials where you’ll watch me navigate various social media platforms as I give instructions. None of them are much more than six minutes long and I promise I won’t bamboozle you with jargon. It costs £50 and if you type in the code AOA25 you’ll get 25% off.
And if there’s anything you don’t understand, you can always e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Suzanne: I feel like someone floored the accelerator pedal. It has been a whirlwind of a year. The Arts Council grant, the flamboyant and fabulous bus tour, refreshing the website, starting the Facebook group, the hot tub talks. We did much more than I would have thought possible.
Rose: In fact, I came back from Cuba and Suzanne told me that AofA had been awarded an ACE grant, so we threw ourselves in doing what we said we were going to do for that. The Death Dinner, the Taboo Night at Vout-o-renees, and finally the Flamboyant Bus Tour of London. And then the screening of the film Death Dinner and then the Flamboyant Subway Tour in NYC. It’s been non-stop and brilliant to do.
Also the quality of the articles that have come into the online magazine. It has been a rich experience in terms of cajoling gently people into doing pieces, and witnessing the courageous, often revealing results. I really feel passionately about a fierce sort of writing where the writers dare to be raw and honest and reflective about their lives. A big thank you to all the contributors this year.
What have the spectacular parts of the year been?
Suzanne: The fabulous and flamboyant bus tour felt like a turning point. I’ll just never forget the sight of so many wonderfully dressed women and men walking through Sloane Square to make their way onto the bus. It was just magical. So many new friendships were forged on that day, so many great conversations, it was very special.
The Death Dinner was a humongous undertaking but seeing the final film and the viewers reaction to it made it worthwhile. My wish is that we can find a distributor to help us reach as many people as possible with it. It feels like a very important film.
Starting the Facebook group and seeing the level of engagement on it is what keeps me going. It has been a steep learning curve but an exciting one.
Rose: For me, the coming together of the Death Dinner was really momentous, having the Dissenter’s Chapel for the dinner, gathering ten colourful characters from the Death World ie a mortician, a soul midwife and so many more. And the fact that it was filmed by my son and his team, and that abundant feast was provided by an old friend who also participated because of her own intimate relationship with death made it all seem so close and important. For me it’s important that we have made a film out of it as well and hopefully we’ll find ways to screen it in different places around the country, festivals etc with Q & As.
I loved that we thought of the idea for the Flamboyant Bus Tour when we were waiting to get into the chapel one day. Suzanne and I have a way of organically making things happen and bouncing off one another in a fulsome way. We had no idea that so many people would come in such outrageous outfits worn with such boldness. There was a brilliant buzz on that bus of like-minded people finding each other and then they have kept in touch.
For me, so much of AofA is about forming a tribe of people who want to rebel against stereotypical ageing with gusto and grace. This has started to happen.
Go on indulge yourselves with a few more detailed memories?
Suzanne: The hot tub talks were alot of fun. I loved the one we did on Style with Johnny Blue Eyes, Pasha DuPont and Caroline Sinclair. Often it was the conversations we had after we stopped filming that were the most interesting and that was certainly the case on that evening. Wow is all I can say!
Our trip to NYC, our Subway Parade and subsequently having dinner with Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks. I really enjoyed that trip and showing you around. It was great fun.
Rose: Oh that’s funny that you mentioned them now, that’s just what I was thinking. The Hot Tub Mini Salons were brilliant. They were intimate and relaxed and I didn’t worry at all about doing them. I loved the one about Death because it felt so daring and intimate at the same time. It had a softness to it in the way we were talking and what we were talking about. I’ve love to get these funded as regular ongoing events.
Oh and I really enjoyed the Tantra one because we had a male sex worker, Seani Love who is doing a very different type of sexuality work with women, meeting them on a level that they may not have been met on before. And Monique Roffey and I doing readings from The Tryst, her recent erotic novel and from Tantric Goddess, my poetry pamphlet. It all felt so relaxed. That’s the key aspect to the all-mighty Hot Tub experience.
What has worked between you both?
Suzanne: We’re both doers! And people who enjoy doing different things. Rose is definitely the easiest partner I’ve had in terms of a working relationship. We’ve had our differences in approach over the year but have always been able to resolve them in a way that made us both happy. Very grown up! I’ve appreciated our frank discussions and the way that we just get on with things. It’s rare to find a partner like this and I’ve really loved working with her.
Rose: Yes, our mutual directness. We don’t spend much time pontificating or procrastinating, we just get on with it and trust the other will too. I concur that Suzanne is the easiest partner I’ve ever had in the work sphere. She’s very dependable and practical in a way that I am often not. She believed that we would get the ACE grant and we did. That self-belief has been very important in the evolution of AofA, as has Suzanne embrace-all philosophy of living. She’s very generous in the way she looks at life. We have had differences this year and we have been able to talk frankly and choose a mature pathway through. Suzanne is also very supportive of other people’s input and ideas. She’s a collaborator.
Tell us about the Arts Council Grant?
Suzanne: It was my first attempt at applying for a grant. I don’t really think Rose or myself knew what we were getting ourselves into. Rose didn’t actually believe we’d get it. It took a couple of attempts before we secured the money, which was to put on three events around Style, Taboos and Death. We both went out of our way to use the money wisely and frugally. I think one of the advantages of our age is that we have access to an enormous network of super talented people who mainly volunteered their services. I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved with limited resources although, in retrospect, I probably would have put on two and not three events which would have enabled us to earn a project management fee that was in line with the amount of time we both put in. Let’s just say, it was very satisfying from an artistic point of view but I probably would have earned more working the till at Sainsbury’s!
Rose: Hilarious. I totally relished this time. And Suzanne’s determination was key here. In terms of getting the funding. We did a lot!! I loved thinking up ideas and actually being able to make them happen. There was one Saturday were I was doing a walk (for a new book) in Roman London and Suzanne dedicated herself to finding some leopard skin fabric to be a backdrop for the Momento Mori frame!! It was a vital extra. Suzanne put herself out to get it. Yes, the creative community that we tapped into and were able to pay – in a small way – was simply marvelous – from poets to writers to actors – and I hope we can do more with them in the future.
And the FB Live Salons?
Suzanne: It started as a bit of a lark that then turned into something. I think we had over 6k views for our Hot Tub talk on Sex. It’s amazing the effect that sitting in very hot water can have on someone’s personality. There were times I really thought that some of the bigger characters would end up taking over the talk but once in the water, they calmed right down! From a technical point of view I would have liked to have filmed them differently. And my crappy wi-fi didn’t help either! I’d definitely like to carry on with the Hot Tub Talks and I’m hoping some nice, geeky person comes out of the woodwork to assist in improving the quality. Finding a sponsor for them would be great too.
Rose: Yes, I agree with finding a way to carry on here. Also, take the Hot Tub Salon idea to festivals. It could be some sort of TV channel too.
It was wonderful having an array of different characters in that tub!!
And the Business Academy?
Suzanne: It’s my passion. I feel that the biggest challenge we have as older people is remaining valued in society and a lot of that comes down to being able to support ourselves financially. Older people are not being upskilled and we have a huge pool of talent from which to draw upon that is just being ignored. I started a tech business a few years ago and it struck me that I was nearly always the oldest person at the networking events I attended on a regular basis. It’s very lonely being that person, not having any support, especially when you’re starting a new business. I want to change that and working with Yvonne is the start of something that I feel has huge potential.
Rose: Totally Suzanne and Yvonne’s baby. And I can see there is a great need for it as people get older.
And the FB Group?
Suzanne: LOL. It was an idea suggested to me by a guy named Vin Clancy running an Internet marketing course which I attended at the beginning of the summer. “All you need is a FB group,” he said, casually. “It will take you an hour a day and you’ll form a community.” So, off I trotted, doing exactly what he said. Only, of course, what I discovered is that I spend most of the day on FB, engaging with members of the group in some way. I absolutely love it. So many interesting conversations, points of view, people making new connections with others from all over the world. It’s amazing when I think about it. I do feel we are getting to the point where all the work doesn’t have to fall on me and I can see there are other key members now taking an active role in the group, which is great.
Rose: It was been brilliant to witness the flourishing of the FB page and Suzanne’s dedication to growing it, and also providing material for engaging dialogue as well as wit, fun and irreverence. I think it has been vital with regards to the community feeling and momentum. Questions can be asked, information garnered and events supported. Yes, I agree it’s important to spread this work now.
Do you feel like you have formed an AofA community?
Suzanne: 100%. We’ve still got a long way to go but we’re getting there. I’ve been encouraged by so many people telling me how much they get out of being in the group, how it has helped them make new friends. I think there’s more we can be doing on the professional/business side to support people and I’m working on that. The lifestyle side is great, the events, hot tub talks, the website but I think we could be campaigning. The bigger the group gets, the bigger our voice. I think it’s important that we have our seat at the table when it comes to talking about bigger issues affecting older people.
Rose: The FB group is lively in a way that reflects how we aim to grow older. There is sparkiness at the same time as compassion. I agree re campaigning. I enjoy witnessing others connecting in this community and then the offshoots. Recently, we did our version of Pina Bausch’s Nelken Line on a pier near the Oxo Tower in London, over 20 people turned up early on a Saturday morning and danced. It was so uplifting and now we have a film on the PB Foundation’s website. There is a feeling that anything is possible, which is echoed in the way we want to live as we get older.
Now you’re a Social Enterprise what will that mean?
Suzanne: Forming a company always comes with its share of responsibilities but it also provides us with more opportunities. And, from a funding point of view, there are grants available and ways of crowdfunding that mean that we can start to become sustainable. I’ve invested nearly £10k of my own savings over the past two years and I’m not in a position to be able to continue to do that so we need to find a way to support what we’re doing and create value from it. I know we can and we will.
And obviously, it has been a learning curve?
Suzanne: Yes and a steep one. Applying for grants, what it means to run a social enterprise, running a Facebook group. These were all things I had no knowledge of until this year. Every day I look at the whiteboard in my living room and see a whole list of new things I have to do and learn about!
Rose: We started AofA without any concrete ideas of what we were doing, beyond a mission statement to grow old differently and provide a support around this for others. I have been editing the online magazine for almost two years now and towards the end of this year, my priorities have changed. It is unpaid work and now I want to a few other things. Suzanne has been brilliant in terms of investing her own money in the AofA, and now we’ll have to see what funding comes in…
I really have been longing for time to write poetry and my new book so I am intending to change my relationship with AofA in that I will no longer edit and gather in article, but instead will focus on special projects for us instead. I hope to develop the Death Dinner in terms of distribution and screenings, other poetry events, the Hot Tub salons and festival visits.
Is there anything you would change in terms of what you’ve done?
Suzanne: We’re coming up to our second year since establishing the website and I know from previous experience with other organisations I have run, that it takes that long to work stuff out. If I’d known how important the Facebook group was going to be, I probably would have started one earlier. I still can’t work out how to drive traffic to the website which is chock full of inspirational articles and that bothers me. I know that it’s a great online magazine, looks great and I want more people to check it out!
Rose: Not really, it’s been an organic process and we’ve just been adapting as we’ve gone along. I do hope too that a way can be found to garner more readers to the brilliant new website and online magazine.
How do you see the future for AofA?
Suzanne: I see 2018 as the year of work and when a lot of the ideas that I’ve had, particularly around the Business Academy come to fruition. We’re looking at having a monthly social event and I can see that building into something that everyone looks forward to and gets bigger and bigger. I think that we can become the umbrella organization for lots of other groups, a resource that people can go to for help or advice, the place for fun activities. I think there is space for us to be that and for a new voice around ageing.
Rose: I see 2018 as the year when AofA gets grounded in a financial and pragmatic sense. Other members will come forth – and are already – to support Suzanne in her quest to spread the pro-age revolution. It’s already on track.
Alex Rotas is challenging stereotypes of old age and helping to create a ‘new ageing narrative’. We talk to her about her work, the perception of growing old in our society and how we can open up our minds to what’s possible as we age…
Rowan Pelling, the vivacious editor of The Amorist, a grown up version of The Erotic Review, is just about to publish a second issue. Here she explains how she feels sexier herself at 49 and how much she loves writers who ‘make you exhale at both their audacity and the painful beauty of their writing’ when they are penning their hearts out about great sex. And she’s definitely putting the sexy word out there for women and men as they get older. No sign of invisibility here.
How is it starting The Amorist in comparison with The Erotic Review?
The Erotic Review was something I fell into, aged 28, after volunteering to help my art dealer friend Jamie Maclean during the Christmas rush for his new company, The Erotic Print Society. He had an eight-page newsletter and my ambitions for the publication were unrealistic and unwise, but fortunately I did not know that. I had the luck of the blissfully naïve with that launch. I managed to get the magazine into Waterstones after calling head office and saying they could keep the cover price and then an acquaintance wrote it all up for the Sunday Telegraph. There was no strategy, no subscription house, no distribution (we drove the copies round branches of Waterstones) and we brought out the early issues as and when we felt like it. The whole thing grew organically and then was defeated by online filth.
This time round I have a proper, experienced magazine publisher – James Pembroke, who also publishes The Oldie – which makes all the difference in the world. James and the backer came to me. At first they talked about resurrecting the Erotic Review, but I pointed out that it was very much alive and kicking as a website. Also, I wanted to do something rather different and less punning and boys’ school in tone. I really wanted to reflect the concerns and interests of middle-aged women like me, who are fascinated by the many evolutions of their love and sex lives. Can monogamy work? Is polyamory feasible? Should we go to the grave without having a same-sex fling? How can we innovate within a long-term relationship? What is pegging? Plus lots of good, sexy fiction. I don’t see The Amorist as being an exclusively female magazine and male readers seem to love it. But I do see it as being primarily aimed at women in mid-life and their partners.
Are you older, wiser and sexier?
Ha, I’m certainly older (49 now) and I’m wise enough to know I have very little wisdom at all. As for sexier… Well, yes, strangely, I do feel sexier. I’m one of life’s late starters. When my schoolfriends were all pulling boys aged 17, I was overweight and acne-ridden and the “interesting” – i.e. unsexy – one. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 20, I didn’t lose the weight until I left university and I finally lost the spots aged 40 when I went to see a Harley St doctor. So I’ve always felt the passing years have given, rather than taken away. Yes, you lose a particularly fresh-faced glow once you move out of your thirties, but I’ve found you gain something different – a different form of effervescence that comes from having experience greater sexual passion and emotional complication – and having survived it all. I’ve never really believed that yoga, water and pure thoughts will keep you young and sexy. I think cramming in as much sex as you can possibly garner generally does the trick. What one dear friend calls, “Living wrong and being free.”
How does this pertain to your own erotic evolution?
See above. Hmm. Every person that you love deeply gives something to you. There’s a temptation to feel people rob you when they stop loving you with that incredible electric force you could call erotic single-mindedness. So I feel the trick is to remember they have actually endowed you with their love and that you can choose to keep the truth of and memory of that within you. Not to reject it as lies, because love has let you down. Erotic love will always let you down. No one can live on that tempo forever.
Has your remit widened at The Amorist to include tantra, for instance?
Yes, we are definitely going to write about Tantra. A friend is going on a week-long course in Germany soon, just for starters (and obviously covering this for the mag). I had a wellbeing spread – what we called The Well-rested Heart – in the launch issue and I intend to expand that section. It’s run by my features editor Belinda Bamber, who is a veteran of Hoffman, of Five Rhythms and The Path of Love. I’ve spent some time with Nicole Daedone of Orgasmic Meditation fame. What makes me laugh is the fact I used to be so cynical about all this kind of alternative stuff. When you’re young, you think you feel, therefore you are. You don’t suppose that you can access more feeling, more intensity, if you just open up to other forms of cultural wisdom.
How do you avoid erotic clichés?
I don’t suppose I do. I’m probably a walking erotic cliché. But there are certain phrases and scenarios we try to discourage – too much sea, water and oceanic metaphor, for example. I’m not very keen on words like boobs and pussy – they just strike me as being icky-lickle-woman-who-can’t-say-breasts-and-cunt. I try and avoid ideas that are unhelpfully prevalent in the culture. The notion that there’s some sort of technical know-how that makes you red-hot in bed, rather than picking out the partner who smells and tastes right to you and who knows how to listen and give back. I don’t like the idea that it’s acceptable to fake orgasms (although plenty would disagree). I don’t like dishonesty about sex.
What does good erotic writing mean to you?
Something that creates some kind of erotic climax and doesn’t resort to clichés. There’s plenty of good, useful porny writing out in the culture, but I’d say the reader response to that is mechanical rather than brain-and-soul-and-body. I love authors who make you exhale at both their audacity and the painful beauty of their writing. Because great sex is often like a breathtaking, but slightly menacing landscape – there is something that threatens to overwhelm and crush the self within it.
Please let us know your own proclivities in writers and poets?
I love Sarah Hall’s erotic short stories. Monique Roffey’s forthcoming novel The Tryst is also magnificent. James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime is my favourite erotic novel (Sarah Hall’s too, as it happens). Gordon by Edith Templeton is the British Story of O and should be far better known. Hanif Kureishi is always fascinating about sexual relationships. As for poets, there are too many to mention – Donne may top the list. Neil Rollinson and Caron Freeborn are too little known and both write excellent poetry about sex. Caron’s only started publishing her work in her late 40s and is definitely someone for Advantages of Age. She’s funny, sly and exquisitely truthful. I edited a book for Everyman’s Library, Erotic Tales, which gives a fair indication of my taste in erotic prose.
Will you be featuring the over 50s in your pieces?
Will we? We already are. All ruddy over the mag. My agony aunt is Louisa Young, who’s somewhere in her 50s (agony uncle Damian Barr is admittedly younger), my style writer, the bestselling author Christobel Kent, is again mid-50s and is photographed looking gorgeous on her spread about sexy silk slips. We have a piece about Japanese rope bondage written and illustrated by Isobel Williams – haven’t asked her age, but would guess 60 – and an amazing first-person article by Elaine Kingett entitled Sex and the Single 67-year-old. And Rosie Boycott wrote a thoughtful letter for the launch issue. Most of my women writers are 45-plus in terms of age.
Do you think it’s allowed to be sexy and older these days in Britain?
We are getting better about allowing that older people may have some small claim to sexuality. I look around me and see a revolution led by sparky women who refuse to submit to the cliché of comfy shoes and elastic-waistbands – who want to go out in corsets and stockings and fitted clothes. I always laugh at the myth about middle-aged being invisible. I really and truly believe this is a matter of personal choice. You can make yourself invisible at any age – or you can take a leaf out of Vivienne Westwood’s book and be fabulous. I’m always pointing out that when I walk around Cambridge (where I live) the students are invisible to me. I literally cut them out of my vision, because I’m not interested in them. Or, at least, I’m not interested unless they are presenting themselves in a very singular manner, which most of them don’t. But I am fascinated by men and women in my age group 45-65. I observe them very closely – what they say and wear and do. I suspect you only invisible in middle age if your vanity demands a 22-year-old notices you. But I’d rather be noticed by my peers. I love it when a woman my age admires something I’m wearing.
And what about other countries?
The French are notoriously better at celebrating older women. Vive la France! Italians and the Spanish always seem quite celebratory too. In America you have to put the hard hours into the gym and submit to Botox, which is too much of a sweat. I’m glad to be British, if only for the tolerance of a few lines. Also, I live in Cambridge where Mary Beard is an acknowledged goddess and kitten women aren’t the role models. Phew.
Give us a little quote that sums up the spirit of The Amorist?
I think that’s best left to Robert Browning:
The moment eternal – just that and no more –
When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core
While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!
Submissions to email@example.com
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.”