Are you a glowing autumn rose? How-To meet a Mr Will-Do-Nicely … coming soon.

A couple of the reviews on Rainbow, while friendly enough, remarked they had bought the book thinking it was a guide to flourishing as a mature single. Well, in a way it was, the men (and women) Dorothy came across were exaggerated for fictional purposes, but they are distinctive types to be found on every website for mature singles.  A small cross-section in a very large field, you could say.

I’ve written blogs about the types, and I certainly had plenty of material. Write another novella, pulling in more types, and more advice? Or do a how-to book?

I went with the how-to. Well, I went with two. There’s one coming out On Meeting Mr Will-Do-Nicely, and there are times you’d think I was trying to keep all the single mature men to myself, it is so crammed with cautionary tales. I’m not, honestly! The fact remains that most of them pass from hand to hand like hot potatoes (leaving burned fingers in their wake) because eligible men in their fifties and sixties, especially the ones who have been single for a while, are a whole new ballgame.

So why even bother, risk being hurt, heartbroken, scammed, poorer but wiser?  Because we are gorgeous, and still fizzing with life and adventure, and forewarned is forearmed. Go have fun. Do no harm.

As I wrote Mr Will-Do-Nicely I kept adding bits of advice I’d been given, or discovered for myself, which have nothing to do with dating and everything to do with making the best of the totally unexpected surge of energy and sunshine suddenly lighting up life and turning us into autumn roses.  It’s an odd reality that women in their late forties, even early fifties, menopausal and irritable and mourning the loss of fertility, are the most resentful of our Indian summer. You’re how old? You cannot be feeling healthier, fitter, more interested in sex and life generally, than we are, we feel old, you are old!

Ooooh, ffssssssssst.  Whether they like or not (well, they don’t) you can feel better than them. You do. They’ll find out, if they can shake that attitude. Sometime after the menopause the rush of life comes roaring back, for at least a while, and it is wonderful. It is so easy to waste it, with the wrong mind-set. Eventually I’d added so many notes about that it was diluting the singles book. So I moved them to another, On Perfecting The Indian Summer.

Am I an expert? No. Qualified to give advice? Only by experience. These aren’t books that order you about, lay down the law, they are How-To books based on reality.  I’m in my late fifties, I didn’t expect the Indian summer myself, and I did waste the start of it. I briefly joined a mature singles website to research one of my whodunits (Five Six Pick Up Sticks) and later I joined another for Nine Ten Begin Again so I could ask some fairly direct questions, and eventually I wrote A Second Rainbow. I’ve had a lot of fun, in the name of research, along the way. As for the Indian summer itself, I’ve met many women enjoying the sunshine, including my own half-sisters over a decade ahead of me in age, and they’ve all been generous with sharing advice. I played with the subject, in Eleven Twelve, where I called it the gloaming, and that put me in touch with more autumn roses. There are a lot of us quietly out there.

It will be interesting to see how the books do but if a single reader, just one, enjoys herself more as a result of reading either, they did their job.

Out sooooooooooooooon

Hi ho Silver! guidelines to making your Indian Summer the best it can be

If you remember Silver, chances are you’re a baby-boomer, fifty-plus (plus plus) and enjoying being this age far more than you ever expected. You should. Indian Summer is one of the most unexpected gifts of our lives, and some of us are so taken aback we don’t make the most of it. I wasted the first couple of years, for sure, but now I’m fascinated by all this unexpected lovely sunshine and making the most of it. Check the list below to make sure you are too …

  1. Splurge occasionally. Buy the best you can afford for those you love, but include yourself: treat yourself to something you’ve always wanted to do.
  2. Take pride in your appearance. This is an oddly invisible age, it’s easy to slip into thinking no-one is looking so why bother except for special occasions? Actually, more people are looking than you realize. Haircuts, manicures, good dentistry, make you feel surprisingly good. Ignore the sillier fashion trends, but keep your own sense of style. It’s part of who you are. Your health – ah, now, your health is priceless. Do moderate exercise, eat well and get your sleep. Keep yourself in good shape. Your summer will be the longer for it!
  3. SING.  Sing as loudly as you can, whenever you can. If you haven’t done it for a while, the creaky croak may be a shock, all the more reason to sing more. Fantastic breathing exercise and it will keep your speaking voice strong and vigorous for the rest of your life.
  4. Lovely quote from Mark Twain: ‘I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Yesterday has gone, and tomorrow has yet to dawn. Enjoy today, and don’t stress the small stuff. Do a Scarlet O’Hara. Leave it to tomorrow.
  5. You want dogmatic, ask a forty-something! It’s time to outgrow that. We’ve had fifty years and more to learn that no matter how we push, the world continues to turn, but we also should, by now, know that there really is more than one way to look at life. If you aren’t already a convert, social networks – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on – can be lively, and you could meet up with long-lost friends. Keeping in touch with what is going on, staying interested, is important at any age.
  6. Never use the phrases ‘I can’t do that any more’ or ‘I’m too old’ or that terrible one, ‘In my day.’ Your day is now . If you really feel it is time to give up physically challenging hobbies like playing squash at league level, or training for Iron Man (and since older footballers are now discovering walking football, are you sure your hobby is too physically challenging?) find new ones. You can travel, hike, cook, read, dance. You can adopt a cat or a dog, grow a garden, play cards, checkers, chess, dominoes, golf. You can paint, write, volunteer at a local charity, become a collector of odd things that fascinate you, discover the joys of model planes, trains, helicopters. Find something you like and have fun with it.
  7. Always keep love alive. Love life, love your family, love your friends, love your neighbours. If you’ve been offended by someone – forgive them. If you’ve offended someone – apologize. Don’t drag around resentment with you. One thing we should have learned by now, it doesn’t matter who was right. I can’t remember who it was said that holding a grudge is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die, but it’s true. Forgive, forget and move on with your life.
  8. We’re in an age of change. Old friends move away, following their own dreams of living abroad, or are lost to you, and the thought of replacing a thirty year friendship with someone new is, yes, daunting. Don’t grimly go searching for new friends. Instead, find new things that interest you. Meetup.com can offer some options you never even thought about before. In the process you’ll meet others who share at least one of your interests. Friendships are like weeds, they grow in the most unexpected places.
  9. If you are a talker, talk less, and listen more. If you are one of nature’s listeners, talk more! A change is as good as a holiday . . . be less critical, more open. Remember your mother telling you if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all? Well, modern conversation doesn’t work that way, but you don’t have to be mean to be funny. There’s a knack to it. So they tell me, anyway.
  10. If you hold strong beliefs, enjoy them, but don’t waste your time trying to convince others. Live true to your beliefs, and respect the rights of others to theirs.
  11. Take no notice of what others say about you and even less notice of what they might be thinking. Let them talk, because no matter who you are and what you do, someone will disapprove.
  12. Laugh a LOT. Laugh at everything. You’re a survivor, you’ve somehow muddled through to reach one of the best times of your life, and you’re being rewarded with this Indian Summer. Enjoy it!

I borrowed a lot of this from my mum’s only surviving friend, who is roaring into her eighties in an extremely inspirational way and who emailed me her Golden Age rules, without telling me who wrote them. If you are the original author, thank you for some lovely stuff, and please get in touch so I can credit you here. And apologies to the liberties I took, converting your 21 rules to a dirty dozen for Silver Age* life!

*Still haven’t learned whether the perfect name for us Indian Summer people has been coined yet.

 

 

Loose like a goose – baby steps back to physical health . . .

Every morning I run round the block. Then I kick it back under the bed.

If you haven’t bothered for years, the very word exercise conjures up flushed faces, aching muscles and abruptly feeling very old and tottery indeed. Of course if you’re already doing tons of exercise, you should go find another blog to read, because this one is not for you. This is a blog for those who are a little annoyed to find they can’t run for the train anymore without getting spots dancing in front of their eyes. Or touch their toes, although frankly if that was so important they would be on our knees. Or fancy the first warning twinges of stiffness.

It isn’t too late to loosen up, because it is NEVER too late to improve your general condition.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no exercise regime in this sad and sorry world that will turn the clock back and make you twenty again, but without torturing yourself you can add some pretty simple routines to your day and you will notice the difference, and you will want to thank me.  Instead just buy one of my novels, which are about people our age and quite funny, and will exercise your brain as you solve the murder, and we’ll both be happy, because they are very nice to read with your next cup of tea.)

This is a long road, and you can head along it at your own pace, but you will feel a difference from the beginning.

While you’re waiting for your morning bath to fill up, or the shower to get warm, do some gentle warm-up exercises.  Do not push yourself on any of these: no pain no gain is a crock, when you are starting again after a long break!  However, push yourself a little further every day as your muscles loosen.

I swing one arm, then the other, in big circles, forward, then backward. Seven times works for me, for all of these, so I recommend it. Five, ten, whatever works for you.

Who remembers ‘I must I must increase my bust’? Elbows back, elbows back:  elbows back, straighten the arms. Elbows back, straighten the arms. ‘The more the better to fill my sweater’?  I still don’t fill my sweater, despite years of doing this, but I don’t tuck my boobs into my waistband either.  More to the point, it opens your chest, loosens your ribcage, and pleases your lungs very much.

Hands on hips, gentle twist one way, then the other, seven times. Keep an eye on the bath. You don’t want it overflowing.

Lunge gently, keeping your knee directly over your foot, seven times. Repeat to the other side. I pull hideous faces at the same time to work my facial muscles.  The wind hasn’t changed yet.

If your bath is a slow filler, you have time to trot on the spot a bit. Not exactly onerous, but your lungs are suddenly full of air and all your muscles have woken up.

One thing I learned about twenty years back – even if you are bedridden, temporarily or otherwise, if you think the above exercises, your brain sends the same messages and the muscles tauten and loosen. Not, obviously, as much – but there is a health-improving reaction.

Okay, now you’re in the bath (or shower). Roll your head gently. It not only keeps your neck supple, it stops it thickening.

Look over each shoulder.

Rotate your hands clockwise, then anticlockwise. Make a fist, open, close, repeat. Now play an imaginary piano with your fingers.

While towelling off, clench your buttocks, tuck your pelvic area up, release. And, of course, repeat.

Today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life, remind yourself that there are two things you will never automatically say again. ‘I can’t’ – and ‘I’m too old’.  You probably can, and you probably aren’t.

There’ll be lots more, but that’s for starters.  And yes, you, the puzzled-looking reader with the bulging rippling muscles, I told you to go read another blog. We’ll catch up with you.

On becoming ageless

 

Back in 2000, when I was on the verge of moving to the UK, I had to fill in a few hours and bought Bridget Jones’ Diary and read about half of it, but had to leave it behind, there wasn’t a centimetre of space left in my suitcase and boxes. I enjoyed what I read, I watched the film, and I never realized I hadn’t finished the book until last weekend when I re-read it. What a difference 15 years has made – in the meantime my daughter reached Bridget’s age, and I find myself identifying with her mum. Remember the book? Remember that the mum was filled with energy, erupting out of the life she had decided was a rut, and having herself a whale of a time, when she should have been totally focused on Bridget’s very complicated life? She found her daughter a job, she got herself into a bit of a scandal and was extracted by the effortless Mark Darcy, she enjoyed herself very much, yet all I had retained, over the intervening years, was Bridget having a very exciting affair, meeting a Mr Will Do Nicely, and her dad being miserable because her mum was playing up.  I am delighted by her mum, even seen as she is through Bridget’s rather disapproving eyes.

Most of us have a mental image of ourselves in our heads, which is very roughly somewhere around our thirties.  (Inside every older person there’s a younger person wondering what the blazes happened.)  Whether you are forty, sixty, or eighty, you think of yourself as in your thirties, and it’s always a sobering surprise when you remember you’re not going to vault that fence, you can’t party all night without paying for it the next day, and you think that people who are really in their thirties are wasting precious time and should get out there and do things.

Bear with me, I’m making a point. We’ve established that you, whatever your actual age, are in your thirties. Now think of your parents.  Not the way they are, or were, the way you think of them in that split second when someone says parents.  In their late fifties, early sixties, right? Just there. Part of the furniture, part of the wallpaper, and ageless, albeit in an older way.  So when people in their late fifties and early sixties suddenly jump out of the wallpaper and dash about, we can be slightly resentful of them for not behaving as they should.

Well, until we get there ourselves and suddenly realize we’re still thirty-something at heart, but that we probably don’t have all the time in the world after all, and there are a lot of things on that to-do list that haven’t yet been ticked off.  Don’t expect support or encouragement. Just go do them.

I think that might be why the characters in my books don’t, on the whole, have families (Vivian being the exception) because families really would not approve of them enjoying their semi-retirement so much. They can be whoever they want, just so long as their health and vigour holds out, and they are ageless. Just like us.

 

Creatures of habit, rise up. Throw off your chains.

Every now and then we shake up our habits – start an exercise regime on 2nd January, for instance – but rapidly slide back into our comfortable old ways. As the joke goes, I missed going to gym today. That makes 270 days in a row . . . in fact we’re so estranged I am beginning to feel I should be calling it James instead.

If you’re my target reader, you’ve started wondering whether there shouldn’t be a little more to your free time than switching on the TV, or spending hours jumping drearily from link to link on your social media. Even reading (and do feel free to read one of my books, I’d enjoy that as much as you would, click any book-cover in the margin of this blog) should be to relax, but where’s the fun in relaxing if that’s all you do?

Getting out and about is an obvious way to add variety and interest, but frustrating if you want to try something new, but aren’t quite motivated enough to go on your own. Tomorrow, maybe. Days slip by, become months and years, and particularly if you are one of my target readers, in the full sunshine of your Indian summer, there aren’t that many years to waste. Get out there!

I only recently learned about meetup.com and it is amazing. Wherever you are in the world, click on this link,  MEETUP.COM, and see if there’s something going on within 25 miles of you right now. It is purely social, people pitching up to share an activity with like-minded types, and not in any way a singles link-up – lots are married or with people who don’t share this particular interest, it is purely friendly.

activities

In my area, and okay, Edinburgh is within 25 miles, there are a stunning 644 activities. There’ll hopefully be something, wherever you are, especially if you can extend your range a bit. All ages, all types, all interests, so not all of it will rock your boat, just the thought of me joining a running group is a joke. Ditto patchworking,  a needle is a lethal weapon in my clumsy fingers. A writing group is a bit too much of a busman’s holiday. However, a dog-walking group, hmm, if my insane bulldog wasn’t so tricky with other dogs…  I did sign up promptly for the pub quizzes group.

MEETUP.COM makes it really easy to create and advertise a potential group, and who knows, there may be a dozen people out there whose eyes would brighten briefly at the thought of your particular interest, 2 or 3 of them might get in touch, and you’re on your way. In the meantime, this is what is happening in the next week on my doorstep: Crazy golf / After-work walk up Arthur’s Seat / two pub-quiz nights / 10-pin bowling / a Callander park walk / Curry at the Spice Pavilion / cross-country run at Beecraigs Nature Reserve / afternoon walk at Loch Leven / Piano players / Edinburgh Jazz Festival Cavalcade / Burntisland Highland Games picnic / Drinks / evening stroll round the Cleish hill forts.  I pulled the range down to just 5 miles. Conversational Spanish dinner. ¿Que?

activities2

I flipped through my international address book seeing what my friends had on around them this week. That’s definitely quieter than in the UK, but there’s still stuff happening near most. Nothing going on near Nelspruit or Port Elizabeth in South Africa, you guys need to start a group. Polocrosse, perhaps? Big in both those communities, I know that. Live comedy group outing, and ballroom dancing, near my old smallholding community in South Africa. Go smallholders! A park run in Amanzimtoti, Natal, and a comedy night in nearby Durban on the weekend. Further afield – an English-speaking coffee group meeting in Tenerife on Friday.  Scuba diving try-out this weekend in Almeria, Spain. Open air theatre and a meditation night was the closest to Isle of Wight, but you’d need to catch the ferry to the mainland. Hmm. Boardgames, or jogging for beginners in Tasmania, Australia. There’s a group After The Hot Flashes in BC, Canada (presumably talking about how life is opening up again) and quite a lot there generally. Breakfast, and a wine appreciation evening, were highlights in Cape Coral, Florida this week.

Have a look. MEETUP.COM. Let me know what surprised you, and what you tried. I hope there’s something good!

Then relax with a book. You know where to find one.

Why do we turn our wonderful Indian summer into the age of fears?

I write light-hearted whodunits featuring four characters in late middle age, their autumn years, semi-retired, no longer young but not yet old: I haven’t yet found a description that instantly sums up their age, and if you know one, I wish you would tell me!

Edge, Vivian, William and Donald are in their late fifties, early sixties.  For women, it is definitely the age when the menopause has finally stopped shaking us like a rat between its teeth, and we get a surge of vitality and a sudden renewed interest in life. For both men and women there may have been health glitches, and we are consciously improving our general condition with a little judicious exercise, slightly more cautious diet.

So here we are, feeling better than in years, the offspring are for the most part now independent, the fierce competition of the workplace is less urgent: we’ve risen as far up the corporate ladder as we are likely to go.  Time to ease back a little, and enjoy this unexpected gift, right?

For some reason, no. Things are too good, we can’t get used to that, so we turn this wonderful golden time, this Indian summer, into fears. We could get sick, so every symptom plunges us into gloom. We could lose our jobs, so we stress ourselves into getting sick (whoops. Double whammy). We could lose friends, even people we love, and we start distancing ourselves in preparation. We’ve seen our parents get very elderly, or we have lost them already, and old age is suddenly terrifying.stress

It’s worst when we are alone, but hey, lots of people are alone. The Grasshopper Lawns books are set in a residential village where it’s a condition of acceptance that residents are over fifty-five, and have no family. There are hundreds, thousands, of people who would jump at the chance of meeting others in the same boat. It’s a given that life leaves lumps, bumps, scars, and baggage and no-one you are going to meet will be free of those, any more than you are. It also brings resilience, humour, and experience and people you meet will have those too. A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet? Well, maybe not quite that glib. But by reaching out, you will make friends: do it. Have realistic expectations, and have fun. Don’t sit at home and get old before your time. At the very least, look up meetup.com for your area, you’ll be astonished at how much is going on around you.

Quite a few of my blogs are about single life, second time round, and the idea of meeting someone romantically can be alarming.  I won’t kid you. It is. If you go that route, you will meet some very odd people, have some alarming encounters, you will feel your blood fizz and your heart creak, but you will definitely feel alive and stimulated. For some bizarre reason, Society looks askance at older people dating, flirting, having affairs. Goodness me, why? Don’t we all want affection, shared laughter, even passion, for the rest of our lives?

I didn’t set out to write a series of books that celebrate this stage of our lives, but it did turn out that way. In the first book, Edge could be any age between fifty-five and seventy-five, her life is so sedate. By the seventh book, the four friends are fully enjoying their Indian summer, and there is nothing I have written that contemporaries, friends, or I, have not done. Okay, apart from solve actual murders!  I get slightly peeved when I’m told that when I get to that age, I will see things differently. I am that age. I have younger friends who are already starting to fret and worry, and think themselves old. My older friends, on the other hand, are confidently leading the way into what is, despite our gloomy expectations, a totally unexpected gift from life.

Take hold today.  Carpe diem, and step into the sunshine. Enjoy it! And enjoy every day from now on, to the end of your life. Make it a life to remember with pride. Maybe with a breathless laugh or two … wrinklie love

Confidence, the acquiring of. Discuss.

There’s a joke that used to make me laugh –

From birth to eighteen, a girl needs good parents

From eighteen to thirty, she needs good looks

From thirty to fifty, she needs a good personality

After that, she needs good cash.

Huh, not so funny now.

2010-07-03 13.39.08Tick ‘birth to eighteen’ –  lovely nanny, followed by the best schools (which I didn’t appreciate at ALL) and the big house filled with dogs, even the obligatory pony, which I appreciated very much indeed.  (The pony didn’t live in the house, BTW. Note to self, may need to reword.)

 

Tick ‘eighteen to thirty’ – nothing special, but I had bright hair of – for South Africa – a fairly unusual colour, and a fairly sunny temperament, and can’t remember ever languishing over a fellow who wasn’t interested in me, so check that one off the list too. what the hell happened

 

 

goofyThirty came and went and so did forty and nothing changed much on that front. Like Gypsy Rose Lee, I could have said I didn’t have anything I hadn’t had twenty years earlier, just a bit more of it, and a bit lower down.

Then the wheels fell off. I moved to a country which was very cold, and put on weight to keep warm. Well, probably more weight than strictly necessary.  No, total honesty here. Definitely more weight than strictly necessary. And my hair colour was no longer even remotely unusual, half the people I met had variations of the same.  And a few years went by and suddenly I had got older.

Personality, oh yes, still had one, of sorts, but it rather relied on people noticing I was around in the first place so I could then fascinate them.

Stupid joke stopped being funny.

The reality is, and it took me a while to realize this, which is why I am blogging in case there is any other rather dim person who needs the facts highlighted, put in bold and underlined, there comes a time when you no longer make a strong first impression based on your looks. Invisible happens. Suck it up.

Doesn’t mean you’re ugly. Doesn’t make you dull. But at some point the indefinable something that comes across even in a photograph fades.

So, are you going to fade with it? Allow yourself to be put in the corner, slightly grumpy and resentful, and wishing you had that good cash?  I did, and I wasted a couple of years doing it. My Twitter photo is twenty years old, because I like that photo, and I use a caricature on FB, and only reluctantly a current photo on LinkedIn. The world, and the workplace, is filled with people younger than me vigorously getting on with their lives and I sulked, I did. And carped a bit, and was sour about the unfairness of life.  My corner got emptier, I carped a bit more and there was more grumpy. It Wasn’t Fair. And damnit, why weren’t my older friends finding the same? They were going from strength to strength, making more friends than ever and having a whale of a time.

So here’s what I finally grasped and am passing on. The good thing about losing an instant first impression is that you now make your own. The first time I openly fanned myself ruefully and admitted that I’d reached the age of private tropical holidays was a breakthrough – colleagues laughed and teased instead of politely ignoring my pink face. In fact the more confidence I have, the more strongly people respond. Flirting, far from being gone for good, is more fun than ever when it is an end in itself. No one CARES what you look like, you know. Why should they? It only matters to you. As long as you don’t actually frighten the horses, people see the basic canvas, the difference is that you now might need to consciously check your painting.

Someone young and nice-looking with a goofy smile and a too-loud laugh, you don’t mind them sitting next to you on the train, am I right? Someone ‘older’ with a goofy smile and a too-loud laugh heads towards you and you’ll change seats if you possibly can. Different perception.  Think about it. Those lines round your mouth make you look sullen even when you think you look expressionless. I slowly learned that if I smile (tip: not too goofily) rather than look grumpy, and be alert and open, listen as well as talk, people are more friendly to me now than I think at any stage in my life before. It’s interesting.

I still don’t approve of the way I look. Cameras are not my friends, but everything else, pretty good.  After fifty, you need good confidence. (And some cash would be nice)

You probably knew all that already. But just in case.