Be still and … ACTS!

No, that is not a typo.

I have recently been reinstating an old habit of daily meditation.  It has taken a great number of years to get back into this habit, formed when I was in my late teens but broken when I had my children.  When you are the mother of small children, most self-care goes out of the window.  In my opinion, showering and putting on fresh underwear is a cause for celebration and a huge pat on the back.

I had my last child more than 22 years ago.  I have few excuses for my tardiness in re-establishing this habit.


Recently, I downloaded a free app on my phone that helps people to keep track of new habits they are trying to develop. I began inputting loads of stuff that I felt I should be doing daily, and then my lovely husband reminded me I have enough shoulds in my life.  So I deleted most of them, pairing it down to just three that I feel really sustain me.  These are my keepers.  They will be different for everyone, but for me meditation is essential in allowing me to be the best possible version of myself.

I want to share something about my meditation practice, because this has been such a big part of my life for about 47 years, even if I have not always practised daily.  My approach to meditation has developed over the years, having been influenced by Hindu, Spiritualist, Buddhist and Quaker practice, not to mention certain psychotherapeutic approaches including Psychosynthesis, Mindfulness and Hypnotherapy.  I guess what I do could be considered a bit of a mish-mash, but what intrigues me is that there are some core practices that one can find in all of these traditions.

I sometimes begin with the phrase ‘Be Still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10), as I focus initially on my breathing.  This allows me to settle into the state of meditation.  It is a kind of ‘centring down’ into oneself – a kind of coming home.

The other phrase I sometimes find myself using is ‘Thy will, not mine, be done’ (Luke 22:42).  I like this because it reminds me that my own little ego is of no importance; what my true Self desires is to be aligned with God’s will.

Now, let me pause there.  This language might well put a few people off, and who could blame you?  Organised religion has been responsible for a lot of bloodshed, especially when aligned to power whether power of the state or of sex – and let’s not beat about the bush here, when I say sex I mean men.  It goes without saying that I know some lovely, peace-loving men, and that there some truly principled people who run countries or serve in the parliaments for those countries.  But history suggests that powerful men sometimes use organised religion to justify horrific acts.

Another objection to the two phrases above might be that it is very Christo-centric.  That is true, and the reason is that that is the tradition I was brought up in.  It is what I know.  If I had been brought up Hindu or Buddhist I would no doubt have referenced texts (and used language) from those religions.  Ultimately, I know of no religion that does not require of us that we subjugate personal will for something better than that, and neither do I know of any religion that denies the importance of contemplative practices.

So, having got that out of the way I know there is another objection, and this is a big one – science and religion are sometimes deemed not to mix, because they work on different principles – and science tends to trump religion because of its claim to objectivity. Note, I did not say truth.  As an ex-scientist, I can say with some confidence that science does not deal in certainty but in probability.  Moreover, any good scientist will tell you that what we believe today is very different from what our fore-fathers and mothers believed four hundred years ago.  Science works on disproving the beliefs of yesterday.  ‘Truth’ is fragile.

For me, the problematic word is God, but I choose to use it as a short-had for what I mean – which is not a person with a long beard who lives in some place ‘up there’ called heaven.  As a Quaker I do believe, however, in what I have experienced, and every time I enter the stillness I find a deep sense of peace and of a power that is both a part of me and goes beyond me – that connects me to all living things.

When I am wondering what to do about something that is troubling me, I ask the typically Quaker question of that place within (the inner Light, or ‘that of God’ within each of us):  ‘What does Love require of me?’  If God is Love, then I might as well ask ‘What does God require of me?’  The name is mere semantics.  It is a short form for what I know.  It isn’t theory.  I have no idea whether we live beyond this life or not.  But I do know God; I have felt God’s power.  Saying that in such a public place is a bit like coming out!

So much for the Be Still bit of the title of this blog.  Now for the ACTS!

Anyone who ever took Anglican Confirmation classes  (and a surprising number of British Quakers did, including me) will know that ACTS stands for the following aspects of prayer:

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanksgiving
  • Supplication

The supplication bit is deliberately put last.

As a Quaker, I have often struggled with the idea of worship.  We have a weekly meeting for worship, and we also have a monthly meeting for worship for business. Worship is a word we bandy about, but I struggle to understand what we mean by it, especially if like me you are a Quaker who does not believe in God as a person.  What are we worshipping?  Who exactly are we adoring, in the first part of the acronym I cite above?

I have recently had a bit of an epiphany about this, and it is through my renewed habit of daily meditation that the lightbulb has been switched on.  I feel a deep sense of inner peace when I am in meditation, which sometimes can feel like a oneness with all living things.  I have come to realise that this state is essential to my well-being – without it, I am out of sorts, out of kilter, denying my true self-expression. Adoration – or worship – is the acknowledgement of the necessity of this state, for me.  It is the bliss I feel when I truly let go into both being still, and surrendering my will to that of the Divine.

Ah, confession.  Who to?  What about?  Well, I don’t really confess to anyone other than myself, at least not initially.  But I do believe that having an honest appraisal of my shortcomings is a very useful way to assure my continued growth as a human being.  One of my biggest challenges lies in my relationships with those people who are closest to me.  It is an irony of life that we tend to show our worst sides to the very people who love us most. Or is it just me?  When I spend time admitting this fact to myself, it sometimes does lead to an apology to someone. Other times, it just leads to me being a better human being for a while.  Until that pesky ego takes over again, and needs to be put in its place.

Thanksgiving, or gratitude, actually appears to be good for you (, though like all things the evidence is not entirely straightforward.  I have taken to using my meditation practice in part to internally list and really fully feel, in an embodied sense, my gratitude for three things each day.  Sometimes, more than three things readily spring to mind and at other times it can be like really digging deep to find something.  But it is a wonderful exercise, and I thoroughly recommend it.

Supplication, as I said, is deliberately left to last.  And here we must especially remember the injunction:  ‘Thy will, not mine, be done.’  I confess (here I go again!) I find it hard when I hear people wanting to be the one to win something, or to have the sun come out for their wedding (It rained on mine and we are still happily married, 25 years later), or to be the one person who miraculously escapes the Grim Reaper after a terminal diagnosis.  I might sound harsh here, but I can’t see why one bride should have sun when this probably means another will have rain, or why that particular person should be singled out to avoid death when everyone else will die, or why that person should win, leaving everyone else to lose.  Such selfish desires are understandable; I too have been known to pray for a miracle for someone who is gravely ill.  But when we unpick it all, it makes no sense at all within an understanding of our interconnectedness and equal value as human beings.  And so, if I ask for anything it is most likely that I will simply do what Quakers call ‘holding someone in the Light’.  In meditation I am conscious of a strong light behind my eyes, which is always coloured and sometimes seems to pulse, moving away as it gets bigger, then beginning all over again as a small, near light. I suspect that what I am seeing is activity in what the Hindus call the ‘third eye’.  So it is easy for me to offer up my prayer of holding someone in the Light, allowing the forces of Light and Love to do their work, whatever that might be.

This has been a different kind of blog for me.  As I said earlier, it is a bit like ‘coming out’; showing my true colours.  Not everyone that will see this blog and knows me, knows what I think about spiritual and religious matters.  My fear on writing this is that some might think me a bit weird.  But in the last year I have found myself getting braver about who I really am.  In any case, my thoughts and beliefs are – like science – provisional.  Tomorrow, and next year, and in five years, who knows where I will sit with any of this?  It will all depend on what I experience in the meantime – and on being open to seeing what lies in my path.

So, what are your ‘keepers’?  In other words, what habits would you like to keep or introduce into your life that sustain you and help you to be the best version of yourself?  I would be interested to know.  As always, please do comment on this blog, and not just on Facebook where I know most people see the alerts.


A happy new year


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I have, like many of us do at this time of year, been looking back on 2017.  To be honest, there were some real highs, and some real lows.

The biggest lows were saying good-bye to my daughter and her little brood, as they returned to the land they love that just happens to be across the world from me, and saying good-bye to my brother, who died a few months later.  Actually, the good-bye there continues as we will be scattering his ashes at sea in February, close to his birthday.

The highs?  Well, among these were that my lovely husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage, and we also travelled to South Africa to celebrate my oldest stepson’s wedding.

So, what can we learn from this?  Well, whatever you hope for in 2018, if you are desperately clinging to some idea of a superior being dishing out goodies just for you there is a high chance you will be sorely disappointed.  It just doesn’t work like that.  None of us, so far as I can see, is the chosen one who will for some reason get more than our fair share.  We will all get some goodies, and some challenges.  The question is, how do we meet those challenges, and do we use them as opportunities to make us stronger or do we crumple, feeling angry and let down that our prayers for goodies (and only goodies) were not answered?

You see, it all depends on whether we have an internal locus of control (these people know that whether life is good or not is up to them – they make opportunities for themselves, and tend to see their glass as half full, or more), or an external locus of control (these people look for solutions to life’s problems outside of themselves, and thus tend to be disappointed, seeing their glass as half empty or worse).

I thought I had an internal locus of control, but I now realise that I tended to be one of those people who at the stroke of midnight offered up a silent prayer, like a needy child shouting ‘Me! Me!’ – hoping to be the recipient of special goodies in the coming year.  What was different in 2017?  Well, I gave up alcohol and joined a movement called One Year No Beer, which was set up and is led by the wonderful Ruari Fairbairns and Andy Ramage.  The whole tone of their movement is about setting challenges for yourself, and building that sense of agency that tells you that you are the master or mistress of your own fate.  To say it has been life changing would be an understatement.

In 2017, I did not drink alcohol either to comfort myself or to celebrate.  I finished the first draft of my novel, completed a plank challenge which ended up in me being able to hold a plank for five minutes (!), and I changed my diet to become pescatarian.  My arthritis is no worse than it was a year ago, and a lot better than it was 18 months ago in terms of pain levels.  I can’t say whether or not my lifestyle changes are responsible for this, but I am pleased with how I am managing this chronic and usually degenerative condition.

So, what for 2018?  Well, around forty years ago I took part in a Fundamentals of Psychosynthesis at the Mill Hill Institute in London.  That too was life changing. I recall one particular exercise we did, which encouraged us to consider ourselves as having body, intellect, emotions and spirit, then asking our higher selves (through a meditative process) whether all four of these were getting equal attention.  It was as a result of this exercise that I went back to study as I felt then that my intellect wasn’t getting as much attention as it should.

I did a quick version of this exercise for myself recently, and came up with my goals for 2018.  These are not ‘resolutions’ to be broken before the month is out, but commitments to myself.  So, for the sake of accountability here they are:

  1. I will get the garden straight. This is a massive undertaking I might add, but it will both provide some regular exercise (body and emotions, since exercise has a positive effect on mental state) and feed me spiritually, as this is the place where I feel closest to my Dad who died in 1998.
  2. I will continue with my Quaker practice, feeding my spirit.
  3. I will complete the re-writes on my novel, and submit it to either an agent and / or publisher. This, of course, will feel my intellect.
  4. I will take really good care of my body – warming up before attacking the garden, not lifting anything too heavy despite the temptation to do so, and going back to the exercises for my chronic rotator cuff injury (left shoulder).
  5. I will continue with yoga and pilates at the gym, and my gym programme. I will also carry on dancing and performing whenever I can, with the community contemporary dance group to which I belong – Ad Hoc Dance, which is celebrating 25 years this year under the Artistic Direction of the wonderful Ruth Jones.  And I will carry on hill walking with my hubby and alone.  I think I have enough for my body!
  6. I will focus on fun. I have a lot of fun playing with grandchildren, but I also want some adult fun every now and then, and in particular I love to dance, so dance I will, even when all I can get to is a Zumba class!

There you go.  I will check in every now and then, to see how I am doing with this lot!

How will you take care of your body, emotions, intellect and spirit this year?  How will you make sure you have a happy 2018, whatever life throws at you?

In retrospect, I’m moving forward

This is one of the times of year when I used to do a review of my life and look forward to the coming year, making aspirational plans.  The other time when I might do this was my birthday, which is in June, conveniently just six months away.

However, since retirement two years ago I have begun to see my life differently.  I no longer strive to achieve in the same way, though I do see myself continuing to grow and change.  I just don’t put the same pressure on myself. I have no-one to impress, no-one to please other than myself and those people I love dearly.

So it might come as a surprise to know that at the start of 2017, I made a change in my life that turned out to be far bigger than I thought it would be.  I decided to take a break from alcohol; not because I felt I had a problem, but because at the age of 65 and with various health problems associated with ageing I felt it no longer made sense to drink as much as I did.  I didn’t drink mid-week, but I did tend to drink more than the recommended limit at week-ends.

I began, as I have more than once before, with Dry January.  It wasn’t easy to take a break from alcohol so soon after the over-indulgence of Christmas, but I had done it before so at least I knew what to expect.  Just one week in, I wrote in my Dry January Journal:  ‘I keep finding that a smile creeps over my face, for no good reason.’  Already, I found to my surprise that my reflux had improved, and in the first week I lost two and a half pounds in weight.  By three weeks in, I had made the decision never to go back to drinking every week-end, just because it is the week-end.  I decided that I wanted to become a rare or occasional drinker; an aspiration that I still hold for some time in the future. I was in a different mind-set this time.  And before the month was up I had found a Facebook group to help me carry on; One Year No Beer (OYNB).

At the end of the month, I gave this feedback to Dry January:

‘I have done DJ before, but I think I have always felt a bit deprived, and I could not wait for February 1st to come.  This year is different.  It seems a light bulb has gone on in my head, and instead of thinking about giving up something I have begun to see it as a freedom – alcohol free!’

Once I had achieved the month though, it felt hard to carry on.  I had to find my motivation, so I listed my reasons for remaining Alcohol Free.  My body continued to change, chucking out toxins around seven weeks into not drinking in the form of a spot on my chin.  The weight fell off me, but my sleep was rubbish.  It was anything but an easy ride.  But I stuck at it.

One of the things that I have become aware of during this time is the way that alcohol is peddled as both a necessary part of having a good time, and an essential way to make a bad time seem better.  The industry has done a very good job of brainwashing us all into thinking this is true, whereas in fact alcohol kills true connection with other people, takes us away from fully experiencing the joy and wonder of now, and magnifies our negative emotions.

One of the mantras I have developed for myself, which seems far more accurate than the dominant narrative is:  Alcohol never made anything better.  During this year, I have said a tearful farewell to my daughter and her little brood as they returned to the other side of the world, grieved the loss of my brother, celebrated my oldest stepson’s wedding, my own 65th birthday and our silver wedding anniversary, climbed Table Mountain in South Africa, and generally been far more present than I was the previous year for anything and everything, good and bad.  I have not got caught up in the bad times, and I have been able to savour the good times.  I decided to go pescatarian a few months into the year, and it feels so good to be eating a diet I feel is right for me.  I have lost a bit of weight (not that much; I didn’t need to lose all that much), I have more energy, occasionally I still sleep badly but I don’t stress about it, and I generally feel better in myself.  I no longer have night sweats, my digestion has improved no end, I don’t get breathless doing ordinary tasks, and I am calmer.  I am told I am a nicer person to live with. Oh, and I completed the first draft of my debut novel.

As the founders of OYNB, Andy Ramage and Ruari Fairbairns have noted, if there was a pill that could give you all of this, we would all be popping it!  All I had to do, was stop pouring poison into my body.  In retrospect, drinking alcohol was a ludicrous thing to do when I was doing so many other good things for my body and soul.  And so, I stopped doing it.  And I started moving forward –gently, and with compassion for self and others.

I don’t judge those who continue to drink.  How could I?  I did it for decades, and there were even times when I genuinely enjoyed it, though far less often than I told myself was the case.  In this world of ours where the powerful can stand in judgement on others – and harm them – because of their sexuality, religion or any number of other characteristics, I strongly believe that we each should feel at liberty to make the choice that is right for us (provided we are not harming others), and to do so free from fear.

And so, I will be lifting a glass of bubbly alcohol-free wine at midnight on December 31st.  And I will be moving forward into 2018 with hope and an open mind.  Who knows what the next year might bring?

Living the life I choose

I hate the injunction to ‘live your dreams’.  I do, thank you – at night.

I also get a bit exercised by these memes one finds on social media, telling us that we can do or be whatever we wish.  No, we can’t.  Sorry, love, but that is just a falsity.  If you go through life thinking you can be or do whatever you want, you are setting yourself up for failure and a life of misery.  I personally failed to get into Cambridge to read medicine as a thirty-something lone parent.  I suspect there was some snobbery involved there, but it was just as well, really – I already had enough on my plate! More recently, I failed to get into the Hallé choir – I was nervous as hell, but in truth I simply am not a good enough singer.  I was gutted at the time about both of these failures, but I have got over it.  If anything, they were instructive about what is, and is not, worth pursuing.   I have had plenty of other successes in my life.

Of course, there are people for whom the idea that you can be or do whatever you want seems to be true. They tend to have been born into privilege, and go through life with an air of entitlement.  What’s more, they can make massive mistakes, even losing thousands or millions of pounds in the process, but because they have the buffer of daddy’s money they end up sunny side up, laughing their heads off.  The current president of the United States of America is a case in point.

But what of those mere mortals who constitute the vast majority of the Western (already privileged) world?  Actually, those brackets should not be there.  Let’s not ignore them.  There are a lot of people in the world, for whom the dream is to have clean water, adequate shelter, and enough food to feed their crying children.  The idea of living one’s dreams is a first world obsession.  But, it needs to be addressed.

So, once we have done what we can to help the mother in some far off village to feed her children, and with due humility and thankfulness for our privileged lives, what then?  If not living our dreams, what is the alternative?

Well, the first thing is contained in the previous paragraph.  There is a lot to be said for a bit of old-fashioned counting of blessings.  Apparently, this can have huge health benefits (

But then what if you do want to progress a life goal?  Well, one of the things I always told my kids was to follow their passion, because passion is something you feel in your guts, and it is accompanied by wakeful action – not, ahem, sleep and passivity.

Some of you might know that on January 1st, 2017 I gave up alcohol.  Not an easy task, and there have been plenty of occasions when I might have given up sobriety.  But I am a stubborn old bird, and so despite facing several celebrations and two major periods of sadness I have not touched a drop.  What has helped me to stay the course so far?  I made a decision.  I did not then make excuses, as if there was someone else in control of my decision, and someone else to please.  It is my decision, and mine alone.  If I change my mind, I am responsible for that.  It isn’t as if I have no choice in the matter – you know the scenario; you hear it everywhere.  ‘I couldn’t go on that diet / stop drinking (insert any lifestyle change here) because we had to go out for a meal / there was a wedding / someone died (insert any number of excuses here)’.  It is all lies.  Lies to oneself, to avoid actually making a decision and meaning it.

I can’t say that sobriety is a passion of mine, but it is a commitment.  For now, at least.  It is associated with action and choice.  With being awake.  It is definitely not a dream.

And you know what?  It has woken me up to just how grateful I am for each and every day on this wonderful planet of ours.

Let’s not muck that up, eh?





I hesitated before writing about this topic. For a start, I did not want some smutty fella doing a search for the topic and possibly using a photograph of me to – well, you know.  Eeeuuuwwww!

In addition, I did not want to have to reveal my own position on sex in older age, though I am sure the very fact that I am writing about it might make some of you wonder.  So I will say it now.  I am not about to tell you anything about my own sex life or lack thereof.  Sorry if that disappoints.  You are perfectly at liberty to stop reading right away.

So why is this topic important?

Well, for a start-off, I am sure there are still lots of ageist attitudes out there about older people and sex.  We should not really be doing it, and if we must – well, per-leeeeeaaaaase!  Just don’t talk about it.  These ageist attitudes can then get internalised, and as older people we can feel a bit guilty if we are ‘doing it’.

Of course, these assumptions that sex is just for the young can be useful to some older women.  For some women, it is a relief to be free of having to respond sexually to a partner.  The reasons for this are legion: some women might find sex uncomfortable or even painful, for example due to a prolapse; others might no longer find their partner attractive, but not wish to split up; still others might feel tired or depressed; and for some women, sex has always been distressing due either to negative messages about sex during their formative years, or due to abusive experiences.  About a third of women over forty report low or no sexual desire according to one American study ( and I would be the last person to suggest that those women are in some way abnormal, or should change to fit some kind of imposed norm.

However, there is a growing body of research about older people and sex which suggests that quite a lot of us are still having sex.  A longitudinal (1971 to 2000) Swedish study of 1506 people (946 of whom were women) showed that the proportion of 70-year-olds having sexual intercourse increased over this period in both married and unmarried people, and for both men and women.  Not only that, but those from later birth cohorts reported less sexual dysfunction and higher rates of sexual satisfaction.  In short, we are luckier than our mothers in how many of us seem to have a happy, healthy sex life (

Staggeringly, having regular sex is not uniformly good news.  A recent American study suggests that it might just put older men at risk of a heart attack, whereas it has the opposite effect for women in that it can help keep blood pressure at a healthy level (

So, what are the risks for women, of sexual activity in older age?  Well, it depends who you do it with, and under what circumstances.  Older women might think less often than younger women about the risks of STDs including HIV and Hepatitis C.  Many older women might forget to take the usual precautions to ensure their safety, including insistence on using a condom.  They might think that since they cannot get pregnant, there is no need.  But given the good news that more of us are having sex, we can assume that more of us are also having more than one sexual partner in our lifetimes – who probably has also had more than one …

Alcohol plays a big part in putting older women at risk sexually, whether it is in forgetting (or not caring) about condoms, or not being on our guard enough to protect us from situations in which rapes can occur.  Some older women are lonely, making them more vulnerable.  Others are disabled and dependent on others for care.  None of us, whether old or young, gay or straight, woman of colour or ‘white’, disabled or able-bodied, is immune to the risk of sexual assault. I don’t want to be a downer or scare my sisters out there, but we all need to be vigilant.  And being out of your head on alcohol or drugs is not going to help you to do that.

I have found very little from my cursory searches that focussed on lesbian, bisexual or transgender older women and sex.  However, one study found that lesbians are more likely to orgasm during sexual activity than heterosexual women ( However, they also found that women who orgasm frequently were more likely to have oral sex, have sex that lasts longer, be happy in their relationships and be able to ask for what they want in bed.


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Climb every mountain?

I struggle sometimes.  Well, I struggle a fair  bit actually.  One of the things I struggle with is finding that happy balance we need as we get older, between giving up on physical activity and going for it in ways that might just cause a heart attack, injury or worse.
Let me give an example.  I write this while I am on holiday in South Africa.  A beautiful country, by the way, which I would not have visited had it not been for my oldest stepson falling in love with and marrying a lovely South African woman.  We came over for the wedding.  While staying in Cape Town, my husband and I agreed we wanted to walk up Table Mountain.  The last mountain I walked up was Ben Lomond in Queenstown, New Zealand in February 2016 – so roughly 19 months ago.  On that occasion, I got a laryngeal spasm, for the second time in roughly a week (the previous occasion being on a fairly steep but familiar hill, Queenstown Hill, when I was still recovering from a virus).  My first experience of a laryngeal spasm was a couple of years before this, walking up a very familiar hill in the UK which I had previously taken in my stride (pardon the pun).  On that first occasion, we were walking with some particularly fit friends.  I was embarrassed to be lagging behind, and so I pushed myself.  Nearing the top I got breathless and thought at first it was an asthma attack, but I found myself making a very scary rasping noise, unable to talk without sounding as if I might be breathing my last.  I know, I know, I am being dramatic.  My inhaler didn’t touch it, and my GP later diagnosed the incident as a laryngeal spasm.  
So, having now a history of laryngeal spasms when exerting myself on hills, and knowing I had not trained for this mountain hike, I was a little apprehensive about Table Mountain.  I made sure my husband knew where to find my inhaler in my backpack should I find it impossible to talk,  and warned him I would be taking it easy.  But let me tell you, the Platterklip Gorge is steep, with almost no relief from the constant climb.  

I took rests, drank water and ate frequent small amounts of chocolate.  However, I knew that if I was ever to reach the top I must get going as soon as possible after each brief rest.  My husband and I were the oldest people climbing that day.   The young people we passed were all very sweet, telling us we were doing well and bless them, openly amazed that such an old woman would even attempt such a climb.  
But sure enough, I spotted the early signs of a laryngeal spasm as I found myself clearing my throat repeatedly and swallowing frequently.  When I stopped, I was suddenly aware that my breathing had got a whole lot worse and when I tried to talk my voice had that familiar sound of someone with a very nasty throat condition.  By now we were about an hour and a half from the top, but the way down looked even more treacherous than the way ahead.  And so I went on, cross and embarrassed that I was holding us both up.
As I continued, I was also aware that I felt dizzy (especially if I looked round!), and after a while all four limbs began shaking.  But the views were to die for (I hoped I wouldn’t!), and eventually as we entered the gorge about 45 minutes from the top we encountered some welcome shade.  Here, I sat and ate one of my two sandwiches.  It tasted like the food of the gods.  
Finally, we reached the top.  I felt elated, high fived my husband, and we wandered around the top marvelling at the 365 degree views.  It had taken us two and a half hours to get there (including a stupid half hour detour).  Average time, in fact, though my hubby admitted later he could have shaved half an hour off that if he hadn’t been with me.  It was one of those peak experiences that I will never forget.
I wonder what my doctor would say?  Would he say I was foolish to attempt it, given how manifestly unfit I was, and my age?  Or would he secretly want to high five me?  My arthritic hip was painful for days afterwards and still has not fully recovered more than a week later.  It gets caught and clicks, painfully.  Have I made my arthritis worse?  Was I close to having a heart attack or stroke, given that my BP was probably through the roof?  Where is the advice for people my age who want to get fitter?  
Where is the line between a failure to accept the limitations of ageing, and giving up?  I am not yet ready to put on my slippers and watch daytime TV.  I want to live.  I want to have adventures while I can.  Should I worry, or just carry on doing crazy things?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I suspect I will keep on keeping on.  I am currently planning how I might get more used to hills and train to walk up to Scafell Pike next year, maybe doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks in one week (not one day, and not even consecutive days, in order to give my hip a break).  I am not daft (though my family might disagree with me).
I would love to hear your comments below.

Are you over 60, fit and healthy, or battling against physical limitations?

Do you find yourself wondering how to strike the balance between doing yourself harm through exercise, and doing yourself harm by not exercising?

Do you have specialist knowledge that might be useful to people in my situation?
Looking forward to hearing from you!

Grief and survival


On Friday July 7th, 2017, at 22.05 I heard the house phone ring, and leaped up to answer it.

The voice on the other end confused me.  It sounded like my brother’s, but was too young.  For a while, I felt as if I was in a parallel universe, or had gone backwards in time.  I rather hesitantly asked who this was, feeling embarrassed and sure I should actually know.

The voice on the other end told me that this was my brother’s youngest son.  He told me he was ringing with sad news – that he had found my brother dead in his bed after being alerted by someone (my brother’s long term partner) who had been expecting him for the week-end.

What happened next was somewhat unreal.  I heard someone crying, and realised it was me.  I sort of felt my way to the sofa, aware that I was standing and my legs were giving out under me.  My husband quickly realised what had happened, and helped me to sit beside him, offering much needed physical contact. I had trouble taking in the news.  Even though I knew he had been ill, the shock hit me like an express train.  For a split second, I wondered if this was a joke (but my nephew would never be that cruel), or maybe I was dreaming (but no, this felt too shocking to be a dream).  I wanted time to adjust. Some kind of warning, as there was for both Mum and Dad, who were taken into hospital and died later.  It felt so final.  One day, my brother was alive, and the next he had gone to bed and never woken up.

I spent the next day in a daze, but I had things to do.  Most pressing was the fact that this was the week-end, and at 9 am on the Monday morning I was due to begin examining a PhD in another part of the country.  My husband and I quickly agreed that I could not let the candidate down; to have one’s viva cancelled at the last minute would be awful.  And so, I packed my bag for travel on Sunday.  I met the other examiner at breakfast on the Monday morning, and warned him I might not be at my best.  The viva went smoothly, but I was relieved when it was over and I could go and rest on a nearby beach (which just happens to be where my parents used to live when they were alive together).  I could not actually rest, however.  I wandered around, like a small boat adrift at sea at the mercy of the currents.

I had arranged to stay with friends that night after the viva, and travel home on the Tuesday.  On the Tuesday morning, I began sneezing and streaming, and put it down to hay fever.  By Wednesday evening, after a stint of grandchild sitting, I developed a sore throat and started to feel unwell.  Then followed a long period during which I tried to keep on doing things (I tried lying in bed but it just made my back ache), battling a feeling of being totally wiped out, headachy, hot and cold, a throat like the night of the long knives, and then the cough set in.  Two weeks on from the first symptoms, I still feel lousy but the cough is loosening up a bit.  I have a GP appointment booked for tomorrow.  The phrase ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’ comes to mind.

During this time, I have had two lots of people come to stay, which was all pre-planned.  I could have asked them not to come, but I didn’t.  It was lovely to see them, even if I did find it harder than usual.  I went to bed early, and got up late.  People understood, for which I am grateful.

However, what this period has reminded me of, quite apart from how grief hits the body and not just the tear ducts, is how some people some of the time get it right in how they deal with others’ grief, while some people some of the time seem to miss the mark.  Not that there is a right and wrong way.  We all do grief differently, whatever the textbooks tell us.  Some of us want to talk, others want to be alone or avoid talking about their grief.  Some want to be touched physically, while others recoil from it.  All of this is normal.  However, from my own perspective both as someone who has been through grief a few times now and who has worked as a therapist with people who are grieving, I can offer a few tentative pointers about how to respond to others’ grief.

First of all, do offer your condolences.  Some people find it very hard to know how to do this, but I have been touched by simple Facebook messages saying ‘I was so sorry to hear about your brother / so sorry for your loss, Bonnie,’ followed by something caring like ‘I do hope you are able to take care of yourself at this difficult time.’  Unless you know the person shares a particular spiritual or religious belief with you, resist reassurances like ‘He is now up in heaven with the angels,’ which frankly makes me want to puke as it is based on mere superstition and is thus not at all reassuring to me.

Next, when you meet the person – and this is the really difficult one, I know – don’t run away / cross the road / hurry off with some lame excuse.  You might feel really awkward and wonder what to say, but as with the condolences I personally have appreciated it when my husband (who is a complete star) asks me how I am feeling, without expecting me to be OK, and then listens rather than talks.  Asking if the person wants to be alone, or with people, in silence or talking can also be a good start.  Would the person appreciate a short walk with you?  If they want to talk, what do they want the conversation to be about?  Would they prefer to avoid the topic of the person they have lost?  Or maybe to talk about her or him?  You can reassure the bereaved person that they don’t have to be a particular way (some of us laugh, somewhat hysterically, or to take a break from active grieving).  Tell them they can ramble on, or be silent, talk about something very specific that is bothering them, or watch a romcom (or anything else, for that matter).  But don’t, whatever you do, try to fix anything.  That is not your job.  If they regret that row they had in the morning, just listen, show you care about how they are feeling, but don’t give false reassurances.  Or any reassurances.  Oh, and don’t use this as an excuse to tell the bereaved person all about your third cousin twice removed, who also lost their brother / sister / parent / lover.

Be honest about your availability.  When someone is bereaved, typically the family swarms round them, not wanting them to be alone for a minute.  But families can’t usually keep that up.  By all means, stay the first night if your loved one isn’t ready to be alone.  But make it clear that you are offering this for the first night.  Oh, and do ask.  They might not want it.  Don’t tire yourself out so that you feel resentful and then start getting snappy.  That simply is not worth it, to anyone.  But when you can, offer practical help.  Is there anything that feels too much right now, that you can reasonably take off the bereaved person’s ‘to do’ list?

We have yet to have the funeral for my brother – another hurdle to face.  His ashes will be committed at sea (he was a naval man), but I don’t need a place to go in order to feel close to him.  As with my parents, I find myself saying and doing things that are like him, and I have a little chuckle to myself when that happens (usually followed by tears, but that is normal).  In addition to the sea he loved a particular part of Yorkshire, where he worked voluntarily on a railway.  I might go there some time.  My brother loved trains.  The last time I saw him, he was waving me good-bye on the station as my train pulled out.  That is how I wish to remember him.  Waving to me as I pull out of a station.


Good enough

view from my study

Today, I have been mostly grateful for just being good enough.

Now, that is not a statement I could have made a few years ago.  You see, I am – no, I used to be – one of life’s perfectionists.  Let me tell you two things that happened this week.

I have to go back a bit. In January, I started two things.  I joined a choir, and I gave up alcohol.  I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to give up alcohol for, but I joined Dry January to begin with.  I had done it before, but this time I had a different mind-set from the start.  I had been reading more about how there is no safe level of alcohol, now that the World Health Organisation has acknowledged it is a carcinogen (cancer-forming). For anyone who wants to read up about this, there is a recent article here:  True, people usually under-report their drinking, making most of the epidemiological research flawed, but I was uneasy about taking that risk.  Then, I was aware that by drinking (and I only drank at week-ends mostly, but then I went over the ‘recommended’ limit), I was peeing out calcium and other nutrients, which is not good for my osteoporosis.

During Dry January, which is supported in the UK by the charity Alcohol Concern, I realised I would like to go on further this year. By chance, I saw a posting in the DJ Facebook group that mentioned another group called One Year No Beer.  And so, in February, I joined that, started their 90 day challenge, and have not looked back.  They have a Facebook group (, and run challenges for which a charge is made but other resources are available to assist you in making the change.

I was, frankly, amazed at what changed for me.  I could list everything, and certainly while my health has steadily improved in ways I could not envisage, I think the most surprising changes have been in me, and in my relationships.  My husband says I am much nicer to him, for a start!

As I said, the other thing I did in January was to join a choir; the Hallé Choral Academy.  The Hallé choir is a highly respected amateur choir (, but that was not the one I was singing with!  As a rusty older woman, I joined the Academy, which ran for the first time this year from January to June, culminating in a performance at the amazing Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, which was a week ago today (June 23rd, 2017).  It was the most amazing feeling, to be standing up singing in the choir stalls, behind the orchestra, to about a thousand people; an experience I would not have dreamed was possible until I heard of the Academy and joined it.

Which leads me on to this week.  Or rather, first of all this month.  As part of On Year No Beer, a wonderful participant called Sally Wilkinson, who runs her own juicing and fitness business (, very generously took those of us who committed to do so through an amazing process, building up to a five minute ‘plank’ over the whole month.  I completed that today, with much huffing and puffing and going to my knees and what-not, but I did it.  One might say, I did it my way!

The other thing I did this week was to audition for the Hallé choir.  Some might say I was mad, and I might have been, given that I don’t have to put myself through stressful auditions at my time of life, but I realised that if I did not have a go I might always wonder if I could have done it.  To cut a long story short, my nerves got the better of me, and I was turned down.  It felt like a blow to my ego, but my lovely hubby was proud of me for trying, and he was right.  I had a go.

What both of these experiences reinforce for me, is that whilst I do not actually believe the rubbish spouted about anything being possible (we all have limitations), I do know that if you do nothing, nothing happens – or rather, what happens is not within your control.  I had a go.  I didn’t get into the choir, but that means I am not over-filling my time even more than I already do.  And I probably will never again do a five minute plank, but at least now I know I can do a minute.  I couldn’t have done that before.

And I’m still not drinking.  And do you know what?  I don’t miss it.  I am living life, with bells and whistles.  And I am not peeing out my calcium.

Light in the darkness


I have been troubled of late.  Recently, there have been terrorist attacks in my home city of Manchester (on May 22nd 2017), and then when I was in London recently there was another one on June 3rd – in an area where I had been walking only the day before, and through which I had travelled by train just earlier that day.  Both were horrific attacks, condemned by all decent people.  Both cities responded with strength, love and determination to overcome the trauma that had hit them, but the attacks have left their scars.

I also have been troubled for much longer however, by what I see as a creeping move towards an ‘I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder’ kind of mentality.  Interestingly, this is in contrast to the outpourings of love I have seen in Manchester since the attack.  But I can’t ignore it, and I can’t ignore the creeping racism that comes after each such attack.  It seems that we can only love each other if we hate someone else.

Recently, I decided that I need to get up earlier, in order to develop a morning routine for myself that allows for me to engage in my spiritual practice, as well as some morning exercise and some chance to get some writing done (I am writing a novel as well as this blog).  The first day did not go well.  I was dizzy all day, and seriously wondered if I was doing the right thing.  But it was great to be able to meditate early in the day, for twenty full minutes.  Today is day four of my new routine, and in my meditation this morning I found as usual that my mind wandered.  Today, it is hard not to be pre-occupied as Britain goes to the polls.  I found myself feeling uneasy.  Being interested in the mind-body connection I decided to follow the feeling that had developed in my stomach, to see what it was telling me.  I quickly recognised the familiar feeling of not getting it ‘right’, not being good enough, and wanting so much to be good enough.  Sigh.  I often say that one of the benefits of getting older is that I no longer feel the need to please and impress – but this is only partially true.  I am much, much better at being honest about my own needs than I used to, but I have a long way to go.  For example, yesterday when I was in a Nordic walking group for the first time (they had all been doing it for years) I was at great pains to do it properly, to keep up, and not to complain about my hip hurting.

Once I recognised this old familiar pattern today in my meditation, I could let it go.  Immediately, I felt easier, and the tension in my stomach disappeared.  I found myself smiling serenely as I went deeper into my meditation.  I was just enjoying the bliss when two things happened:  my husband called up urgently, reminding me that we needed to vote before I went off to my clinical supervision; and the phone went very soon after this, offering me a place in today’s beginners’ Pilates class.  And so, I only got 15 minutes in, instead of 20.  But 15 minutes well spent.

Perhaps I will eventually learn to be more loving and kind to myself.  I know full well that I need it.  Someone recently wondered aloud on Facebook how to foster resilience in the face of these terror attacks.  I responded from what I know, as a Quaker:  Be open to the Light, in both yourself and others.  So what does this mean?  Well for me, if I take this intention seriously I have to look for what is good in life, and welcome it with gratitude – not ignoring the pain and suffering of others, but doing what I can and not getting caught up in suffering along with everyone. That is hard for me.  I tend to feel others’ pain, perhaps a bit too much.  But if I don’t heal my own spirit, how can I be there for others?  And how can I bear witness to the Light within each and every person I meet?  That Light might seem pretty small and distant in some people who are intent on hate, but I do believe it is there somewhere, if only as a potential.  Some people have been so badly hurt that they find it hard to reconnect with the place in themselves that was once there as a baby, when they first learned to smile at a smiling face – the place of recognition that can blossom into love.  We all had that innocence once.

And so, I will stay connected, if falteringly, to the Light within, the Light around us, the Light in others I meet – the Light that connects and binds us to each other, in love.  And I will keep on working on not needing to please.  There has to be some advantage to getting older, right?

Worker bees


I was feeling a bit miserable when I woke up this morning.  Today I have been missing one very important thing about my former work life; that wonderful feeling of being involved in the transformation of lives.  I felt proud of each student as they left around this time of year.  They were all, without exception, very different from when they started their courses three years previously.  I was a part of their transformative learning for thirteen years, and it is a hard thing to let go of.

I became curious about why I didn’t feel like this last year.  Well, last year retirement was still new and I was still finding out what it meant, I guess.  We had not long got back from our ‘big trip’, and I was delighting in having time to pursue all kinds of hobbies, including creative writing; I was just finishing off a completely free futurelearn course this time last year (If anyone fancies following that one up you can find it here:  I was all fired up, after that.

So, I had a buffer last year.  This year, I miss my students.  Funnily enough, I am meeting one of them later this week, which is nice, but I miss that sense of purpose I had – a reason to get up and get dressed each day.

Of course, another reason I might be feeling a bit low is that it has also been a pretty hard time recently for those of us who live in Manchester.  On May 22nd a suicide bomber killed 22 people at Manchester Arena, at an Ariana Grande concert.  Some of them were parents collecting their kids, and the youngest victim was eight years old.  Manchester folk won’t be defeated, and there have been many wonderful examples of random acts of kindness following this awful event.  The worker bee (above), the symbol of Manchester for many years, has become a symbol of hope after hate. But the atrocity has shaken many of us.

Well, I never promised you that every post would be positive, did I?  I don’t think I am depressed, but I know I have to get a grip so that I don’t become it!

Anyway, I decided today to get on my bike.  I haven’t ridden it for about a year, since my diagnosis of osteoarthritis in my right hip.  I had read or heard that cycling was not a good idea, but recently I have seen a physio for my left shoulder impingement, and I asked him for advice about my hip.  He kindly gave me several booklets from arthritis research ( In them, I learned that cycling is actually encouraged, which perked me up no end.

I thought I had better take it easy, so I pushed it up the hill from our house, before getting on and peddling.  I had forgotten how to use the gears, added to which the chain was rusty (note to self:  keep oiling!), so it took a bit of getting used to (I pulled on the break instead of changing gear at one point – luckily did not go over the handlebars!).

I went past an old lady, who was sitting on a bench.  She had a dog, who was sniffing and wagging nearby, as they do.  I said a cheery hello as I cycled past, and then I decided to turn round and have a chat.

I found out her name is Selina, and she is 89.  I asked her if she knew what the internet is.  She said yes, though she hasn’t used it.  I explained the concept of blogging, and she gave me permission to use her picture and tell her story.  Selina is a twin.  Her sister’s name is Florence, and they live together, not far from me (their mother was called Selina Florence).  About ten years ago, she fell and broke her hip, and was in hospital for about ten weeks.  Her daughter, who is in her fifties right now, took the dog in, and when her mother came out of hospital she suggested they share the care of the dog.  The daughter used to be a dresser at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but moved to be near her mother and auntie so that she could care for them.  She had hoped for a job in a Manchester theatre, but it never worked out.

Selina’s daughter is typical of so many women in the prime of their lives, and often much older, caring for even older relatives.  A recent newspaper article ( reports research by the University of London which suggests that there is a significant negative effect on women’s health when they care for others in this way.  Some women in that age-group find themselves sandwiched between caring for their parents and caring for their grandchildren, as people live longer and child care costs become a strain on young families.

Selina is lucky, not only in that she has a daughter to care for her.  I don’t want to suggest that all caring is negative; I am sure Selina’s daughter is happy to do care for her mum.  Selina also lives with her sister, which further protects her against the loneliness that comes often with old age.  Loneliness in oder age is, according to one study, twice as likely to kill you as obestity ( But then, poverty is an even bigger killer …

So, to end this cheery blog post: women like Selina are role models in more than one way.  She sits on her bench and waves a cheery hello to anyone and everyone.  She keeps as active as she can, despite having broken her hip some years ago.  She sees her daughter regularly, and feels cared for.  And she lives with her sister – a very precious gift.  Incidentally, her sister smokes and drinks, which Selina does not.  Both are still alive at 89.  Which kind of underlines the importance of positive human contact in older age.  I just wish that the improvement in Selina’s chances of living healthily into older age could be mirrored in her daughter’s.  That daughter, whatever she gains from her role as carer, has given up a lot, including the job she obviously loved.  I do hope she also feels cared for, by someone.