kay scorah.

If you're being yourself, you can't be an imposter..

Getting some work done.

I recently posted on social media that I’d been advised by a recruiter to “get some work done”. This was not, as far as I know, meant as a criticism of my work ethic or performance. No. They were advising me that, if I wanted to be considered for a particular role, I would need to invest in Botox, fillers or even facial cosmetic surgery.

To be clear, I’m not looking for a job, but I am open to non-exec directorships, and this recruiter had messaged me wanting to have an initial conversation about such a role. When we took the step from message to video, they were clearly rather surprised, nay, shocked to see my face.

(*I know how they felt. Whenever I look in the mirror on the morning after one too many glasses of red wine, I wince and reach, without delay, for the tequila.)

I reacted to their suggestion with my customary aggressive politeness, and informed them that, whatever the role, I wasn’t interested in continuing the conversation. Wishing them “a very nice day”, I clicked emphatically on “leave this meeting”. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I knew immediately that I didn’t want to be a member of a club that will have me only if I conformed to their warped aesthetic.

I found it hard to put words to my reaction, so simply posted this image which summed up how I felt, and stepped back to see if the response from my friends and associates would help me to match that feeling with some kind of logic or reason.   

I grouped the responses into 3 categories (of COURSE I did – after all, I was a researcher for about a hundred years, as is evident by my brain wrinkles) and then drew my conclusions.

Response type 1. “REALLY?!?!? Are you fucking kidding me!!??”

Those who made their responses public tended to share my rage, disappointment and exhaustion that older women still have to play male or play young to be seen. It’s acceptable to be angry about this, hence these replies tended to feed the conversation, rather than popping into my private inbox.

Many of you wanted me to out the recruiter. But I won’t. I won’t because I don’t believe that removing the symptom will change the system. The ageism and sexism may be pushed a little further underground if we silence one or 2 culprits, but the problem won’t be solved that way. The cosmetic surgery and filler industry (much of which is not regulated) is worth an estimated £6bn a year in the UK alone, so I’m pretty confident that there are people out there able to pay whatever it takes to persuade our legislators to protect this expression of ageism.  

Response type 2: “Get real, girlfriend!”

Several private messages were from well-meaning friends who agreed that this shouldn’t be a thing, but nonetheless told me that the recruiter was right; if I ever want to be seen in public again, and taken seriously in the business world, said work has to be done. Some of these friends are themselves filler addicts or have had some kind of cosmetic surgery (in case you don’t know, once you start down the filler route you can expect to need top-up injections every 6 months or so – it’s a very profitable business model). I should also add that most of them have had such subtle work done that you might not even notice until they start to cry when you thought they were smiling. Some of them had already told me that I should join the movement (or lack of movement). They find some interesting ways to express their support for me, “You have such lovely, expressive eyes. It’s a shame to have them hidden by all those wrinkles.”  

Response type 3: “U OK hun?”

The response that surprised me the most, and that really made me think, was the pity response. Variations on; “You poor thing”, “That must be so hurtful”, “Are you OK?”.

You see, it never crossed my mind to be hurt or offended by this. In my (wrinkle shrouded) eyes, this is not about me. It’s about a sexist, ageist society that doesn’t want to know about your skills, talents and ideas unless you pass the looks test. It’s about a world where some people can’t concentrate on what I have to say because they are too distracted by my lines and wrinkles. (In the same way that, when I was a young woman, some people couldn’t be expected to concentrate on what I had to say because I have breasts – even though those were, and still are, barely noticeable.) That’s not my problem, it’s theirs.

In closing, I have a confession to make. I’m a hypocrite. I too am sometimes guilty of allowing someone’s appearance to affect my opinion of them, or to undermine my faith in their expertise. For example, when a privileged, obese, white male looks to camera and tells me how to look after my finances and my health, I admit that I find it hard to take him seriously. So maybe I should get that work done after all.

(*For those of you who don’t know me, I’m kidding. Those of you who do know me know I’m not kidding)

The chef, the vulnerability box and the elder microbiome

Another type of diversity conversation. And a call to action.

Alongside the wonderful Paul Loper, I’ll be heading back this time next year to the beautiful Mexican Pacific coast as guest faculty at the Modern Elder Academy. I’m looking forward to learning more than I teach (as always) and in particular to enjoying the work of the most important faculty member at MEA, the person whose contribution has the potential to make the greatest difference in the lives of those attending…yes, I’m talking about this guy: Tony Peralta. Chef.


But for now, I’m still in London Covid world, with stern warnings everywhere I turn that elders like me are more at risk than younger people of serious illness and even death if we become infected by the virus. The message is one designed to evoke passivity and fear; I’m being told what to avoid and what not to do.

It seems to me to be dangerously superficial as well as offensively ageist to throw all elders into the same box. I’m not alone. A paper in the international journal of the British Geriatrics Society states:

  • The public discourse during COVID-19 misrepresents and devalues older adults.
  • The ageist attitudes circulating during COVID-19 make some people think that the pandemic is an older person problem. (Ageist attitudes include the belief that ill health is inevitable, intervention ineffective, and improved outcomes inherently not valuable to society).

The same paper goes on to say that it doesn’t have to be this way; that there is substantial untapped potential to modify the relationship between chronological age and health, and to relieve the so-called burden of ageing on individuals, families and society.

One of the fundamental reasons why some older people can be badly affected by Covid is a lack of diversity in the gut microbiome. In case you didn’t know, your microbiome is made up of more bacteria and fungi than you have cells, and diversity in its composition protects us from disease, affects our metabolism and weight, our inflammatory response, cognition, appetite, mood….

Over the age of 40, the diversity of these bacteria in our gut tends to decline. The reasons for this are many and include diet (many people slide into habitual and unhealthy eating patterns), hormone levels, diabetes, use of antibiotics, painkillers, antidepressants, and drugs such as statins which are used to manage blood lipids.

At a time when we are being advised to wash our hands and stay away from other people, the risk of reducing the diversity of our gut bacteria is even greater – cutting down on opportunities for the virus to enter our system also means that we’re preventing bacteria getting in, so we need more than ever to protect and boost the ones already in there. In this necessarily disinfected environment, we need to do even more to sustain the diversity of our microbiome and thus protect ourselves from those dangerous inflammatory infections caused by Covid.

This is where our hero, Tony, comes in. One way to slow the age-related decline in microbiome diversity is by changing our eating habits to something more like a Mediterranean (or what I tend to think of as a Pacific Mexican) diet of the type served up by Tony and his team – plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables, grains, fresh fish, some fermented foods (and, yes, the occasional glass of excellent Baja California wine). It helps also to snack less, taking long pauses between meals to give your gut a break. Exercise has also been shown to support microbiome diversity.

To learn more about this, Prof. Tim Spector is definitely worth a follow, and this article of his on how to boost your gut microbiome is very helpful. I’m looking forward to his upcoming book, Spoonfed, on diet myths which I’ll feature here when it comes out in a couple of months time.

I’d love us to turn Covid19 from a reason to hide away into a reason to act. To take this opportunity to do 2 things:

  • as individuals, rather than allow ourselves to be wholly dominated by the vulnerability narrative, take action and start to re-build the diversity of our microbiome so that we improve our resistance. In short, “Cook like Tony.”
  • as a movement, start to draw attention to the fact that the medicine business and pharmaceutical trials have historically and shamefully under-represented older people, black people and women.[1] A paper by multiple academics from London, Shanghai and Mexico written in 2014 decried the under-representation of older people in research and healthcare thus, “effective (healthcare) intervention in older people is complicated by ageism, complex multimorbidity, and poor access to age-appropriate care…older people tend to be excluded from clinical trials that would generate specific evidence to inform their treatment, even for drugs that are mainly prescribed in older age.”

Worth reading:

[1] The burden of disease in older people and implications for health policy and practice
Martin J Prince, Fan Wu, Yanfei Guo, Luis M Gutierrez Robledo, Martin O’Donnell, Richard Sullivan, Salim Yusuf

Missing Microbes. How the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. Martin J. Blaser.



I’ve been gender stereowiping nursery rhymes. You’re welcome.

Please feel free to add your own in the comments below.

In case you are not familiar with ye olde nursery rhymes of the British Isles, the titles in bold are almost identical to the originals, so you can look them up

Jill and Jack,
just for the craic,
went off to climb a mountain.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
and Jill called 911 before administering essential first aid.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
The queen and all her ladies in waiting spent the afternoon rebuilding him,
kintsugi style,
and when they’d finished he looked absolutely beautiful.

Sally Ann Grundy,
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Drank plenty of fluids on Friday,
Felt better on Saturday,
Went clubbing on Sunday,
That was the end,
Of Sally Ann Grundy’s mild throat infection.

Ride a fine mare to Banbury cross,
to see a cute guy upon a white horse….
…in spite of his 6-pack and fine biceps,
he has no sense of humour.
So, I’ll just turn this mare around and head back to the pub with my mates.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly,
this was just the beginning of her PhD in nutritional biology

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain;
She stepped in a puddle,
Right up to her middle,
And yet continued to make her way through the flood waters to rescue drowning residents.

Little Ms Muffet
sat on her tuffet,
eating her curds and whey,
when down came a spider,
who sat down beside her,
so she ate him; because she, too, was a nutritional biologist.

Elle MacDonald had a farm,
Ee i ee i o,
And on that farm she grew some weed,
Eei eei o
With a toke toke here and a toke toke there,
Here a toke there a toke everywhere a toke toke…
….What was I saying?

Mary had a little lamb,
its fleece was white as snow
and everywhere that Mary went
she sold unique handmade organic wool sweaters at an enormous profit.

“Baa baa blacksheep,
have you any wool?”
“Yes ma’am, yes ma’am, 3 bags full!
One for the master and one for the dame and one for the little boy who lives down the lane.”
So the dame, Mary, bought the bags intended for the males,
and invested them in her high-end organic wool sweater business.

“Mary, Mary quite contrary,
how does your garden grow?”
“With silver bells and gold bullion and bitcoin all in a row.
All purchased with the profits from my designer woollens business.”

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many architectural awards for designing this unique structure that she found it quite difficult to find space for them all.

“Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
Silver buckles at her knee:
She’ll come back and marry me –
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
Bobby Shafto’s bright and fair,
Panning out her yellow hair….”
…..”Forget it mate, she’s not giving up a life of travel for a loser like you!”

“It’s raining, it’s pouring.
Me old man was snoring.
He bumped his head and went to bed
And he couldn’t get up in the morning.
I swear that’s exactly what happened, Your Honour.”

Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep
And can`t tell where to find them…
I’m fairly sure that bitch Mary has nicked them.

Little Jackie Horner sat in the corner eating her Christmas pie,
Having been told that the pie contained plums, she was not in the least surprised to find one therein, nor did she expect praise for happening upon the obvious.

Old Queen Cole was a merry old soul.
And a merry old soul was she,
She called for her pipe, and she called for her bowl
And she called for her fiddlers three.
All of which explains why she was so merry.

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
A complex combination of elements,
forming compounds and sub cellular structures.
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
A complex combination of elements,
forming compounds and sub cellular structures.
That’s what little girls are made of.

Not sure if you’re an immigrant or an expat? Take our simple test to find out.

If you’re one of the *232 million people living in a country that you were not born in, then you’re probably wondering where to draw the line between “ex-pat” and “immigrant”. (Unless you are a British person living anywhere overseas, or a French person living in South Kensington, in which case you have never even considered yourself to be anything other than an ex-pat). So we’ve developed a simple 2-minute quiz to help you out.

First, find photographs of the people running the country you’re currently living in. By this we mean politicians, business leaders and media owners. In reverse order.


Now, take a look at our handy skin colour chart, and find **your skin colour.


If you are the same colour as, or paler than, the ruling elite in the country you are in, CONGRATULATIONS!! You are an ex-pat.

If your skin is darker than that of the ruling elite then you’re an immigrant.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. If your skin is the same colour as or lighter than the ruling elite, AND you speak or attempt to speak the language of the country you are living in, then I’m afraid you’re an immigrant. Ex-pats know that they do not need to learn other languages because they only ever hold conversations with other expats, and don’t all the locals speak English/French/Dutch/Spanish anyway? (It has come to our attention that some expats do make the mistake of learning how to instruct the staff in the local language. This really isn’t necessary, and in our view is a rather vulgar show of sycophancy or condescension.)

There are also some rare instances (for example if you are an Irish person living in England) where you don’t need to decide whether you are an immigrant or an ex-pat, because most people in the country in which you reside don’t realise that the country you come from doesn’t belong to them.

Next week: Not sure if you’re racist or xenophobic? Maybe you are one of those lucky people who are both! Take our simple test to find out.

(*Daily Mail stat., so who knows what the real figure is.)

(** If you are Donald Trump or a member of the Simpson family, we’re sorry but your skin colour does not appear on this chart. We’re still working on the section for fictional characters.)

What not to wear over 60. The ranteuse returns.

It has come to my attention that there are internexperts out there keen to help me to save myself from the utter humiliation of dressing in a manner inappropriate to my advanced years.

According to one of these, “Your main aims are to create stylish, smooth, lines using contemporary clothing styles that flatter your body shape and coloring..”

Strange as it may seem, dear, my main aim is NOT to “create stylish smooth lines using contemporary clothing styles that flatter my body shape and coloring”. Rather, my main aims, in no particular order are a) to smash patriarchy, b) to help develop an alternative to corporate capitalism that enables peace and equality and c) to have witty and charming people enjoy good food and conversation around my dinner table. And, by the way, I believe that the word you were looking for is “colouring”.

Let’s move on to this gem: “Looking at a full-length mirror after 60 is like running a gauntlet filled with emotional traps, irrational comparisons and destructive media messages.”

A gauntlet cannot be “filled”, you twit. The word “gauntlet” used in this context refers to 2 lines of soldiers, not a bloody glove. Poor literacy aside, looking at a full-length mirror after 60 is like, well, looking in a full-length mirror. If you once looked in a full length mirror aged 19 and then didn’t look again until you reached 60, I can imagine that your reflection might come as a bit of a shock. But then I suspect if you’d spent the last 41 years in a place that doesn’t have mirrors you’d have other things on your mind.

Now to these 2 examples, from completely different sources, which give us some insight into the type of person so selflessly giving of their valuable time in order to help those of us who are in real and present danger of committing serious style faux pas:

“(Over 60) ..there is one person in the fashion industry that should be your best friend. ..I’m talking about your tailor.“ and

“The most important thing in my ­wardrobe is my seamstress”.

The latter commentator presumably goes on to say that the most important thing in her kitchen is her cook, and that she has had her carpenter build a simply perfect bijou residence under the sink for her maid.

Unfortunately, my tailor and seamstress appear to have eloped to Narnia through the back of my wardrobe, and thus I find myself pitifully reduced to breaking some of the most fundamental rules of how to dress over 60 (my italics).

La Ranteuse.

WEAR ANKLE BOOTS ONLY WITH TROUSERS. This will ensure that your legs are protected from any unsightly blood splashes resulting from using said ankle boots to kick 7 kinds of shit through anyone who tries to tell you what to wear.

KEEP LEGGINGS FOR THE GYM, and even then, please wear them pulled way down over your head so that the rest of us don’t have to look at your hideous face and neck. We all know that NO-ONE wants to look at the neck of a woman over 60.

STEER CLEAR OF MINI SKIRTS even when worn by other people. In particular, try not to sit next to anyone on the 38 bus who is wearing a mini-skirt.

STICK TO SKINNY BELTS. It doesn’t really matter who is wearing them, but stick to them at all costs. Superglue can be helpful in this regard.

DON’T WEAR T-SHIRTS WITH ANYTHING WRITTEN ON THEM unless the t-shirt says, “don’t you dare fucking tell me what to wear, you supercilious motherfucker.”

DON’T WEAR LEATHER JACKETS unless you are also wearing a motorbike crash helmet so no-one can see your hideous, wrinkled over 60-year-old face and neck. Or wear leggings as advised in point 2.

AVOID BIG JEWELLERY, if tempted to wear your big jewellery, make it easier on yourself by placing it well out of reach, perhaps in a safety deposit box in Hatton Garden. Or not

P.S. There will be an award to the first person to correctly name the chap that should not be illustrating my t-shirt.

The 8th of the 8th 2016. 88 years and 8 days.

in 2015

Last week, we should have been celebrating our dad’s 94th birthday. Instead, today, we mark 6 years since his death. He died on this day, the 8th day of the 8th month, in 2016, aged 88 years and 8 days. (This strange collection of 8s never ceases to make me wonder..)  

You may say that 88 is a good innings. And it is. But he should have lived longer, like his big brother Dennis who died last year aged 100. This lovely man should still be enjoying time with mum bowling and walking and taking cruises, visits from me, my brother, his grandchildren…

For most of his life a fit, active and healthy man, our lovely dad died of mesothelioma (a lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos) contracted when he worked in the construction industry from the 1940s through to the 1980s. It’s a disease which takes a long time to manifest after the damage is done. Once diagnosed the patient can only be expected to live, at most, 12 months. The link between asbestos exposure and this type of lung cancer was first suggested by British pathologist Steven R. Gloyne in 1935. Further research in 1943 by German researcher H.W. Wedler, showed a connection between asbestosis and pleural mesothelioma, and then in 1960 J. Christopher Wagner published a study which confirmed the causal relationship beyond reasonable doubt. And yet, it was not until November 1999 that the use of asbestos was fully banned in the UK. In developing countries, it is still being used. And the UK public service trade union Unison is still campaigning for a deadline for the removal of asbestos from all buildings.

Why? Because we live in a world where profit matters more than people. I truly believe that it’s as simple and as sad as that. The asbestos industry lobbied[1] to cover up the research findings and silenced dissenting voices from within their own workforce, in the same way as the Grenfell enquiry has shown that manufacturers ignored and even silenced those in the building trade who warned about the use of their dangerous cladding on high rise buildings.   

Time and again, businesses have proved to us that they cannot be trusted to put the lives and safety of their workforce and the general public ahead of profit. The lobbying industry that supports them in this is estimated to be worth over £2bn. We hear of in-house legal teams being forced to defend the indefensible, sometimes resulting in devastating impact on their mental health, and the resignation of some of the very best legal professionals at times when they are most needed.    

My dad’s painful death is one of the reasons why I will continue to support trades unions and those who back them. They may not be perfect (what institution is?) but, at their best, they safeguard the health and safety of their employees and the public, they stand up for fair pay and conditions and can support those who see and wish to expose corruption, but whose voices are drowned out by the clink of champagne glasses at lobbyists’ cocktail parties in Westminster.

We miss you dad. Thanks for leaving me a tiny fraction of your boundless energy. I promise to try to put it to good use.

In 1954

[1] The Asbestos Lie. The Past and Present of an Industrial Catastrophe. Maria Roselli et al. ETUI 2014. “None of those responsible at the time can therefore seriously maintain that they knew nothing of the health risks. In fact, what did happen was that the asbestos industry tried for decades to refute these research results with counter-studies. And continues to do so in many countries to this day – miserable result that another hundred thousand men and women will suffer and die of an asbestos- related disease.

Stop gurusplaining to me!!

Yesterday I attended one of Teddi’s yoga classes here at MEA in BCS, Mexico. Except that “class” really isn’t the right word; “class” sounds dull and formulaic. This was playtime (recess for you US folk!).

For me, yoga with Teddi is an hour or so of playful exploration with him and the others in the room of how my mind and body are feeling, and what they need.

In the language of transactional analysis, it’s a child-child interaction. We explore and learn together starting from a place of curiosity.

Contrast this with the increasing number of times in recent years that I’ve been infuriated by people throwing their advice at me. “Have you thought of….?” “You should always…” “You should never..” “Here are 6 ways to…..” It happens all the time on LinkedIn of course, as well as in yoga classes, in many of those leadership, self-help and management books, and even in real life. (Most “self-help” books seem to me to be the very opposite, rather they are “I’ll tell you what to do” books.)

Yes, of course I’ve got a lot still to learn. And I’m learning all the time; through playful interaction, silent reflection, pushing myself outside my comfort zone, co-creating solutions to big and small problems with colleagues and friends.

But when some self-appointed guru starts to advise and criticise me, to become my critical teacher or parent, it has the opposite effect to learning – I become the rebellious child and I stop listening.  

Particularly now. My memory might not be great but my experience bank account is rich. Believe it or not, guru, yes, I have thought of, heard before and even tried most of the things you gurusplain to me. What I’m looking for now is the kind of learning I did in my very early years, when I learned the most. I’m looking for people to play with. People like my “work” buddy Paul Loper.

And if you’d like to see what my response to gurusplaining is, this photo from 40 years ago says it all.

My future is bigger than my past – second edition

Those lovely folk at Sunday Assembly, London asked me to be the support act for David Wood of London Futurists today, July 3rd. I was going to read out my original post, but as so often happens, the reading aloud revealed that it was nowhere near good enough for my worst critic; a certain Kay Scorah.

So, allow me to present the revised version, the live delivery of which is here. (I’m about an hour in but I suggest you watch David Wood too!)

My future is bigger than my past. (Which does not necessarily mean that I will live for more than another 68 years. Although let’s not rule that out, after all, I am a vampire and the only way to get rid of me may well be to drive a stake through my heart.)

In 2018, I developed a serious addiction. To running. I hadn’t really enjoyed running since school days, but at 64 barely a day went by when I didn’t get out there. By 2019, slowly but surely, I ran a half-marathon.

I pounded the streets and pathways of this my beloved city and ran barefoot in the soft sand of my favourite beach – my unsatisfactory past becoming smaller in my psychological rear view mirror.

The significance of my new obsession was not lost on me; it was all about what I was leaving behind. I was on the run from shame, regret, and from a me that felt unloved, rejected.

As I jogged along the tree-lined path that runs up the centre of Petherton Road, I paused to take a picture of the stunning canopy of trees above me.

Right there and then, I realised I was giving all the power to the past that I was running from, that I was lacking a vision of a future that I was running to. Running to leave behind relationships that did not serve me and the “1lather, rinse, deplete” advertising phase of my career that had only fueled the flames of dissatisfaction and consumption, and made the planet unfit for human habitation.

Just like those trees, the mistakes and missed opportunities that I had been running away from were deep rooted and heavy.

Yes, it felt good to leave that weight behind. But leaving behind wasn’t enough. Mistakes and regrets may have been further behind me, but still they dominated my consciousness. I couldn’t see a “future me” that was anything but less; diminished, frail, and insecure. She was so much less powerful than the version of her that I had been running from.

I was looking at the ground, at the shadows of the leaves, instead of looking at the light above that gives those shadows life. The very light that forms those dancing, dappled shadows.

And then, I found this child again, the one in the photograph.

The one who ran towards. An image of me, no more than six years old, a runner and already a bookworm; inspired by Dickens, she dreamed of creating a just and equal future for the world. She saw the shadows, and yet looked beyond them to the light that makes them.

I am still her, she is still me. I run through the shadows now towards the open space that waits ahead. A space, like my breath, with no limits, and there I meet her, 2face to face. Together our only ambition is revolution, a revolution that started within us. And now, it’s time now for us, me and her, to run hand in hand towards our big future. Yes, regret and bad choices will still haunt me, but they are behind me and now serve to fuel my progress.

To leave behind is good, but not enough. It is the light that makes the shadow that I seek, and together with my young brothers and sisters I’ll run towards it. The superpower of 68 year old invisibility fueled by the passion of the 6-year-old which still burns within me, replacing accumulated insecurity with innate “nothing-to-fucking-lose-ery”, we, she and me, we know no limits.  

1 refers to the climate-destroying shameless marketing bs that has us all washing everything too often and using way too much product.

2refers to the wonderful Kathryn Chapman whose work inspired the original piece.

That Change.

Many thanks to the lovely folks at Sunday Assembly London for inviting me to contribute to their event Periods of Change on Sunday 15th May 2022. And thanks to Steve Chapman for the introduction. The poem that I delivered follows (with the sweary bits put back in!). Or you can watch it here (I’m on about 14 minutes in).

That Change

“You’re just the same, you haven’t changed a bit”,

Oh yes I have, you lying, condescending git.

You think you’re being charming and flirtatious…

You do know it was 1978 when we last dated?

I haven’t changed a bit? Oh yes I have, mate.

In ways you can’t even begin to contemplate.

That Change, that gift from my female biology

Frees me up to behave in ways that you label pathology.

That Change was liberation from the discrimination

that forced me to fulfil YOUR expectation

of what makes a woman. Now I and I alone decide

how I look and speak, and now I give no fucks, my voice is amplified

The real me was bubbling under long ago; repressed, denied, frustrated;

That Change was the one that left me truly liberated.

And now I have erupted, not constrained by patriarchal expectations,

This woman you hear now is my very own creation.

Free to load and detonate the fiery weapons until now concealed within me

against those oppressors and aggressors who would subjugate the real me.

No. I will not “calm down”, “get work done” or “reverse those visible signs of ageing”,

It’s time for you to pay attention to the reasons that I’m raging.

When I look in the mirror now, it is the world looks back at me.

The change that I must make for others is the image that I see.

My job is not reducing wrinkles, tummy tucking, covering the grey,

but, rather, liberating my young sisters from outside forces so that one day….

…soon they will stop looking for their “imperfections” and start looking at a system

Which has them silence the flawed warrior woman in favour of the botoxed victim

For what is the point of perfect skin

in this imperfect world we’re living in?

Don’t change the way you look, the way you act, the way you speak,

Rather act to bring about the change that we all truly seek.

Those changes they would have you make to you are but more bars to your cage.

Don’t wait for the freedom that The Change brings; make freedom yours at any age.

Drop the ball. Please.

A few minutes into the joyful, spellbinding hour of “Life” (no, not my life – Gandini Juggling’s homage to Merce Cunningham in the London Mime Festival), one of the performers dropped a ball. Already captivated, this pulled me to the edge of my seat; I was totally absorbed in what was happening on stage, paying close attention to every move and every character.

Why was that first drop so important? First, it reminded me that this is difficult stuff. Really difficult. The performers are expert. They make it look easy, and, in a strange way, that can be a problem. After all, where’s the drama in “easy”? The drop made me realise that the jugglers are stretching their considerable skills to the limit. This player’s response to their own mistake was an eye-roll, a little grunt, then pick up and carry on. Various other slips during the show allowed the performers to reveal more of their personality, often they took the opportunity to make us smile. Sometimes, other members of the company would step in, pick up the ball, the ring or the club and create a way to get it back into the flow, introducing an improvised path back to the script. All this left me thinking that if I were to go to every other performance in the run (and believe me, I would!) each one would be different. For me this is the joy of live, physical performance; it is in the unexpected, the mistakes, the close escapes.

It’s hardly necessary for me to explain the leadership metaphor here, but bear with me. When leaders have the courage to step outside their habitual patterns and comfort zone and allow themselves to make a mistake, people pay attention. I’m not talking about shoddy, neglectful behaviour on the part of the leader (mentioning no names), but real conscious effort to grow and learn for the benefit of their colleagues and the “show” or organisation. It can be an opportunity for a senior person to bring more of themselves to work, to reveal their humanity and personality. Dropping the ball allows other team members to step in to help, to show their varied strengths and talents, to create new ways to solve problems, and to show the leader that they too can ask for support and it will be given.

Show you’re still learning. Reveal the real you. Allow your team-mates to step up. Keep your audience on the edge of their seats.

One word of warning though. Yes, stretch yourself outside your comfort zone so that there is the possibility that you might drop the ball, but don’t fake it; don’t pretend to drop the ball just for effect… your audience will soon catch on.  

P.S if you’d really like to discover how to juggle or tightwire walk or trapeze, and how to apply circus skills to the workplace, take a look at the corporate workshops run by my lovely associates at the National Centre for Circus Arts.

A new kind of love

Between “I love you” and “I am in love with you”

there was no overlap.

Sometimes, rarely, travellers would cross from “I am in love with you” to “I love you”.

(You know; those exes and flings that remain beloved friends…)

But now, I have found a 3rd place

and what a beautiful place it is.

How grateful I am to have found it, so late in life –

this place where love just is.

When we are together,

at the table, on our walks,  

I feel that love is here with us.

Holding us.  

I talk and listen, you talk and listen.

The usual.

Until something in me shifted,

the nature of my attention changed

and I was really listening, really seeing you.

I softened, relaxed, opened.

Absorbing you.

Suddenly I saw little boy you,

teased by other boys in the playground you,

anxious son you,

loving brother you.  

You were about to cross the friend boundary into the beloved friend space

and then the possibility of “I love you” presented itself

in an entirely new way.

And there you are,

between “I love you” and “I am in love with you”.

I feel at home in this place which has no name.

With you.

And now that I have found this place,

who knows who else might join me here.

Who else might join us here?

(P.S. It took some courage to post this. It’s not my usual stuff. Not ranting, not raging, not taking the piss or trying to be clever. Just, well, something I’ve discovered..)

Stick or carrot?

If you are undecided as to whether to use the carrot (reward) or stick (punishment) approach to get your staff, family or suppliers to do something, here’s my thought for the day:

You can give a donkey a little tap on the nose or the rump with a carrot and then use the same carrot to feed it. However, it’s difficult to get a donkey to eat a stick.

That’s it. Today’s blog. Done. Please feel free to discuss this metaphor among yourselves. Or with me.

What I learned from 67 minutes of non-stop hula-hooping.

This morning, my 67th birthday, at 6:07 a.m. I hula-hooped for 67 minutes. The intention was to raise funds for Teenage Cancer Trust. The outcome was so much more. Here’s what I learned:

Movement is meditation. When I’m engaged in a physical activity that requires focus, I’m not thinking, I’m doing and being.

If I pay attention there is always something new to notice, both within me and around me. On the inside, I’m scanning my body, trying tiny changes to my body movements and bigger ones like dancing with my arms. I change my breathing, the tension level in my arms, my torso… And as I turn around or change the direction of my gaze there is always something new to notice in the room and outside.

Time flies when you’re having fun. That 67 minutes whizzed by! No wine, no conversation, no entertainment, no coffee required. (Although the coffee at 7.15 was most welcome!)

Sometimes I need to wait for ideas. For the first 50 minutes or so, I didn’t do much with my arms. Then I started to explore different arm movements and now I can’t wait to try even more and create “hula arm choreography”. 

I’m just fine, thanks. For me, being alone is freedom. Being me is enough. My only goal is to need less, not to acquire more.

P.S. If you’d like to donate to my fundraiser for Teenage Cancer Trust, you can do that here, or give directly through their website.

My future is bigger than my past.

Heartfelt gratitude to my dear friend, photographer Kathryn Chapman. She has helped me (and many others) to use photographs to create new ways of seeing myself and the world.

In 2018 I took to running, and in 2019, slowly but surely, ran a half-marathon. I hadn’t really enjoyed running since school days, but soon found myself addicted. The significance and therapeutic value of my new obsession was not lost on me; running was all about what I was leaving behind. My unsatisfactory (in my eyes) past was becoming smaller in my rear view mirror as I pounded the streets and pathways of my beloved city (London), or ran barefoot in the soft sand of my favourite beach in Baja California, Mexico.

A few days ago, Kath asked me to choose or take a photograph to represent and to illustrate my hopes and dreams as we emerge from the constraints of the last 18 months. In my first “what now” conversation with her, I saw clearly in my mind’s eye the tree-lined path on one of my favourite running routes here in North London. Shortly afterwards I ran along that road and paused to take a picture of the stunning canopy of trees above me. Right there and then, I realised my problem: I was lacking a vision of a future with anything like the power and impact of my past.

My attention has been on what I have been running away from, and that is enormous and heavy. Yes, it feels good to leave it behind. But leaving behind isn’t enough. Mistakes and regrets may be further behind me, but still they dominate my consciousness. At almost 67 and overwhelmed by concerns about my identity, financial security and forced retirement, I couldn’t see a “future me” that was anything but diminished, frail, and insecure. She was so much less powerful than the past version of her that I have been running from.

As I looked at the image of those trees above me, I allowed myself to imagine running beneath them towards instead of away from.  Towards a me which is bigger than anything I’m trying to leave behind; a me at 67 with as much potential as I had at 6 or 7 years of age. And this is where the other image that I chose for my conversation with Kath comes in. At that age, already a bookworm and a huge fan of Charles Dickens, I had dreams of writing, of fighting for justice and giving voices to the oppressed.

I am still her, she is still me. Regret and bad choices (choices, by the way, which had the rest of the world thinking that I was oh-so-successful in my career and relationships) still haunt me, but they are behind me. It’s time now for us, me and her, to run towards our big future. Equipped with all the skills and stamina I accumulated in the years of being the wrong version of me, fuelled by the passion of the 6-year-old which still burns within me, replacing accumulated insecurity with innate “nothing-to-losery”, I still have unlimited potential. I will run towards it.

Link to my conversation about this with Kath (including a first 3 minutes of hilarious tech ineptitude on my part!) is on her Instagram page

“….reduce a grown man to tears..”

The other morning, half-listening to a radio commentator through an early morning brain mist, I heard them say that something was enough to, “reduce a grown man to tears”. I was suddenly wide awake, thanks to just 6 words that implicitly sum up so much of what, in my view, is wrong with our society.

I began to write an enraged rant about the glorification of self-serving heartlessness and the damage done to mental health by the suppression of emotion, but luckily stepped away from the keyboard for a while to let my rage against the phrase settle, and compassion for the victims, for those “grown men”, to take its place. And so…

Dear grown men in my life who cry,

To me, you are not reduced by your tears.

The grown men who cry are those whom I love and admire the most.

You are the brave ones, who do not seek to avoid by constantly resorting to banter, to violence or to silence.

You face the truth of your emotions and embrace the learning that it brings.

You are not reduced to tears.

You are elevated by your depth of feeling, your sense of justice, your compassion and empathy.

You allow yourself to feel wonder, joy and pain, and to express that feeling, and because of that your steep learning journey through life continues, like that of a small child. We cry because we feel, and when we shut down feeling we shut down learning and development. It’s no co-incidence that the crying years are the years in which we humans learn the most.

When you notice the miracle of emotion made visible; water coming from your eyes and pouring down your face, perhaps you also allow yourself to pause and reflect; reflect on what just happened and the feelings within you that have fed this salty stream.

To the men who have the courage to cry, thank you. Your courage liberates you and all of us from the oppressive constraints of patriarchal repression. Your tears release you from the shackles of society’s narrow definition of “manhood”, your tears release us all from the impact on yourself and us of your repressed emotion.   

When you allow yourself to be inspired by people and events to the point of expressing genuine emotion, then you remain open to all the wonders of this world and the people in it.

BTW, I searched for images of men crying. The first thing that came up was “tough men crying”. I can’t even begin to write about THAT…

Please feel free to add your own replacements for those 6 words here, let’s start a movement to elevate the lachrymose male.

The Holme Lane Theatre Company. 1961.

Thanks to Kath Chapman I discovered this recent re-take on the Clark Doll Test, which has prompted me to make public here a piece I wrote for my supportive and talented writers’ group, Threadmash (brainchild of Rohan Candappa), in November 2019. This true story is about a doll that I was given for my 7th birthday, and as I approach my 67th birthday, my impatience at our lack of progress on equality is turning to rage.

The Holme Lane Theatre Company – HLTC- specialised in Dickensian tales of poverty and suffering. Inspired by……well……Charles Dickens’ tales of poverty and suffering.

Their performances always featured a fierce heroine; Olivia Twist or Nicola Nickleby, who overcame tyranny and liberated the oppressed. This heroine was always slight of build, sharp-witted and fleet of foot.  Uncannily like a certain small, skinny girl who always came top of the class and had to run fast to escape the thick bully boys in the neighbourhood.

The cast of HLTC, a motley collection of dolls and soft toys, would rehearse in my attic playroom in Hillsborough, Sheffield, and then head out on tour, which involved moving the entire production down to the living room to play to a captive (as opposed to captivated) audience of long-suffering grown ups, or GUs as we shall call them.

Bobo joined the cast in September 1961. A birthday gift from Granny. The first black doll in our company. She turned out to be the Russian doll of gifts; the wrapper around the gift of layers of learning.

Bobo gift 1: Golly has to go. With her movable arms, head and legs and her eyes which closed when she lay down, Bobo was a far more versatile performer than Golly, who just flopped about the place with a fixed grin. And, to be honest, in spite of being rocketed to stardom after having been featured on the side of a jam jar, Golly’s place in the company had been uncertain for some time. Some of our audience did not approve, even threatened to boycott performances, and with Bobo’s arrival… things became very awkward. No. Bobo most certainly could not be expected to work alongside Golly. This was perhaps the only time in history that a black female was given precedence over a male of any hue.

Bobo gift 2: Fluidity in representations of gender. With Golly gone, there were no male cast members. So we became an all-female theatre company. Male characters, if we must have them, were played by girl dolls. In 1961. Yes, The Holme Lane Theatre company was way ahead of its time.

Bobo Gift 3. Questioning the concept of gendered naming. Bobo arrived the day after my birthday, a Tuesday that year. In conversation with Mr Baidu down the street, I had learned that Bobo was Ghanaian for “Tuesday child”. I didn’t know that it was Ghanaian for “boy Tuesday child”. Nor did Bobo. She didn’t need to.

Bobo Gift 4. Heated debates on colonialism, cultural appropriation, integration, assimilation, ancestry, origin, custom…. Some of the GUs argued that Bobo should have an English name, like the other dolls – Wendy, Susan, Lorraine, Katy… “She needs to feel that she belongs.” “Just because she’s black doesn’t mean she isn’t English.” Others defended her right to claim her ancestry….

It could be hard to get their attention back to the play; to Olivia Twist MP’s fight for workhouse reform or Dr Nicola Nickleby’s courageous work among child polio victims.

So, here’s to Bobo, probably the first black female to play the lead in a stage adaptation of a Dickens novel, who, 5 years before the race relations act, called out racism and reclaimed African culture from the colonial Brits, and who, decades ahead of the LGBTQ+ movement gave rise to an all-female, gender non-conforming, cross-dressing theatre company.

Not bad for a doll.

I wonder where you are now, Bobo? And are you as angry as I am?

It’s time to start listen-switching.

September 1965. “You sound really stupid and common. You should speak properly”

I am just 11 years old and having spent those first 11 years in Sheffield I find myself at boarding school in Hertford. Most of the other girls are southerners.

I am not one of them. Not in any way. But if I just change the way I say the letters “u” and “a” maybe I can fit in…

So, I begin to say “barth” instead of “bath” and “fuhnee” instead of “funni”.

December 1965. “Listen to her, lah-di-dah! “Larst Suh n day”. Think you’re better than us, do yer?”

I’m back in Sheffield for the holidays. I now sound like a snob, a fake. I am not one of them. Not any more. Even my family is laughing at me. So after a few days at home I manage to get my hard “a”s and “u”s back. Then, back at school, I go posh again.

I was doing a version of code-switching. I didn’t know it at the time. At least, I didn’t know the term for it. It was one of the many ways that I had to change myself to fit in and get on in the world. Pretty soon, my English accent was [1]RP verging on posh. I couldn’t do a Sheffield accent any more, even if I tried.

I often wonder how much more I might have said, how much more passionately I might have expressed myself had I not been so concerned about how I sounded.

Eleven years later, having just arrived back in England after a year living in Germany and France, and not spending much time in the company of English speakers, I was on a bus in West London and I distinctly remember how it felt to be surrounded by English speakers again. So relaxing not to have to try. A certain tension that I had carried in my body for a year was released. A reminder of how tiring it is to speak another language.

These experiences gave me a glimpse of the tension and inhibition that code-switchers carry with them most of the time.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people who have to code-switch at work or in college, either because they are not speaking their mother tongue, or because of the region, neighbourhood or family in which they grew up. I used to try to help them to sound more RP. I’m sorry I did that, because now I realise that expecting people to code-switch is a kind of accent colonialism. Implicit in it is the belief that there is a right way. And that right way is invariably the way of the establishment, the ruling class.

Now I believe that there is more to be gained for all of us if, instead of asking others to code-switch, we make more of an effort to listen-switch. I believe that people express themselves more fully and authentically if they’re not struggling to adjust their speech patterns and accent. They have the right to feel safe and to be heard if they speak in the way that comes naturally to them. So, instead of listening with the critical voice, assuming that the little girl is thick or common or lazy because of her accent or the way she speaks, why not get over yourself and work harder at listening to what she is actually saying. If you don’t understand, check in with her that the meaning that you are taking out is that which she is putting in.

The way to have good and different conversations, conversations that might give us new ideas and ways of thinking, is to stop being a lazy listener, stop expecting everyone to speak like you and not hearing them if they don’t. Don’t ask others to speak like a boss, but listen like a boss… and learn.


[1] Received pronunciation

The pizza box and the fridge.

(This written to follow 3 Bubbles, in case you were any doubt that serious and silly co-exist in my mind…..)

Never mind this “covid vaccines are a way for Bill Gates to inject microchips into you” nonsense. This is the real conspiracy that no-one is talking about.

 What do you do with leftover takeaway pizza? (I know that for some of you the words “leftover” and “pizza” have NEVER appeared in the same sentence, but bear with me here, I’m a small person.)

In conversation with the always thought-provoking Izzy Gesell the other day, our conversation turned to pizza, as it is wont to do. Specifically, to the annoying mismatch between the size of a pizza box and the internal dimensions of a refrigerator. 

There are those of us, believe it or not, who can’t manage an entire pizza in one sitting, and like to keep it for breakfast – or what I like to call, more correctly, “frühstuckspizza”. 

And so, the obvious and easy thing would be to pop the box in which the pizza was delivered into the fridge until the next day. Here begins the problem. That box is always just a tiny bit too big. Or the fridge is just a smidgen too small. Hence we finish up devouring the whole pizza or wrapping the leftovers in tinfoil and throwing away the box. 

We wondered, Izzy and I, why the fridgemakers and pizza box creators had not co-operated over such an important issue. 

Then after our call, I set out with my measuring tape to measure the fridge and pizzas. Of course I did. And I uncovered the horrible truth. The diameter of an average pizza is 12 inches (when it comes to pizza, I’m afraid even I don’t do metric). The width of my fridge is 18 inches and the depth 13 inches (15 inches if you include the extra bit of depth in between the shelves in the door). So there need be no barrier to pizza boxes in the fridge.

Proof, if proof were needed, of an evil and elaborate conspiracy involving the pizza makers, tin foil manufacturers and the diet and fitness gurus. They have not only co-operated, they have collaborated. 

This evil triumvirate clearly came together in a deliberate plan to increase our pizza consumption, our weight and/or our tinfoil consumption, by bribing the fridge manufacturers and box makers to make the fridge interiors just that little bit too small, and pizza boxes just that little bit too big. 

The very same kind of devilish coalition that has wine makers instruct cork makers to design corks to expand immediately on leaving the bottle, so that they cannot be re-inserted and you simply have to finish the contents of the bottle or it will go to waste, and sock retailers donate billions to washing machine brands to build in their “one sock eater feature”. 

Your own examples of such nefarious behaviour are welcome. 

3 Bubbles: billable, deliverable, valuable.

J is speaking to me from her home office in a beautiful property in one of the best neighbourhoods in the Bay area. She has already warned me that she will need to leave our session promptly to help Casper, their eldest, with his online *math class.

In the background, a substantial mortgage and at least 7 years of school and college fees to come snuggle together comfortably under the luxurious cover of J’s salary – a salary that will continue to keep pace with her lifestyle IF she continues to deliver results that are deemed billable by her firm, and demonstrably deliver bottom line value to clients.  Sales, profit margin, shareholder return. These are the billables and deliverables, and therefore they are also the tangible valuables. (Ooops! A fourth bubble.)

In our conversation, J, a young (to me, at least) and very successful executive, responds to my question about the people in her life that she most admires: about those that have taught her the lessons she values most. She has tears in her eyes.

I notice that she is not talking about these heroes in terms of their contribution to her billable rate per hour, shareholder value delivered or business won. Instead she is recounting small and preciously detailed examples of kindness, curiosity, persistence and patience. Of time spent on the non-billables. Time spent caring for, listening to and speaking out on behalf of others.

This talented and compassionate human tells me also of the non-billable support that she receives every day from members of her work team and her family. J would love to be remembered in the same way that she remembers each and every one of her inspiring and attentive family members, friends, teachers, colleagues.

Her cast of heroes and supporters are truly diverse and come from all walks of life. They have surfaced when most needed, often without being asked.

As our short time together comes to a close, we move on to talk about the next step – J’s transition to C-suite. Standing on the threshold of the boardroom that she is about to enter, J cannot help but notice that the ones who supported and formed her are not represented in there. Those invaluable humans and their immeasurable contribution may be praised in inspirational TED talks, or quoted on the freeby t-shirts handed out at corporate teambuilding events, but they are nowhere to be seen in the boardroom. The system that calculates the value of an employee and paves their way to the top doesn’t have a box for “kind”, for “supportive” or for “good listener”. I hear her resigned acceptance that, in order to take that step, J must pay more attention to the “deliverable billables”, to networking with others who look remarkably similar to existing board members, and less time delivering true value to their colleagues….and to young Casper who is now standing at her shoulder waiting for support in his math class.

I thank J, click on the red “leave” button on my screen, put the kettle on and ask myself, not for the first time, when will we discover a way to place a value on that which is truly valuable?

(*Not a typo. J speaks US English, in which there is only one math. In which case, I should probably have written neighborhood. I digress.)

The day before I published this, the extremely valuable Paul Gilbert posted similar thoughts. I considered binning mine. On reflection, I decided that it’s important that as many voices as possible are heard on the subject.

Eye health

It’s been a while since my last over 65s health and fitness video, but here it is at last. No matter what your age, if you’re spending too much time looking at a screen, this one is for you … You’re welcome.