Institute of Advanced Motorists

Is there an age when older people should stop driving?  At what age is one considered to be “an older person”?   I suppose that at the ripe old age of 75 I am regarded by others as “old”, although personally speaking I consider age is strictly a case of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter!

That may well be my opinion, but when it comes to being responsible behind the wheel of a car it’s not the best policy to adopt.  So when I recently interviewed an Executive of The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) who appeared on my weekly radio programme “We’ve Got Mail “(The Wireless DAB) I posed him the question “At 75 years of age should I stop driving?”

He replied that the trick is to stop when you know your time behind the wheel is up, and that feeling varies enormously from one person to another, adding that taking the decision causes concern to both the motorist and the motorist’s family and friends.  I decided to investigate further and to take up his offer of having my own driving skills assessed to see if indeed my time was up.

Brave of me? It seemed a good idea at the time but as the date grew nearer I realised this would be serious. and could impact on how I live my life.  If indeed I failed to impress the assessor I might be forced to give up driving altogether, with severe repercussions on my lifestyle impacting both my work and social life.

It set me thinking, why would so many people request an assessment as apparently they do?  It appears some older people feel they need a trusted opinion on whether to stop driving for their own or others safety, but the IAM have found that people can be at risk of giving up too soon and need reassurance that it’s OK for them to carry on. Relatives of other older people (children, grandchildren, and partners) have concerns about their loved ones driving, and having an assessment is a way to broach the tricky subject.  IAM research revealed that up to 15% of older people give up too early, simply because they lack confidence.   By law everyone approaching 70 is requested to renew their driving licence and some people feel that having an assessment reassures them they can continue to drive.

At no time have I discussed with family or friends giving up driving, nor have I doubted my own ability until now, so I am curious to know if I am indeed a competent driver.  Nowadays I will admit, as do many of my age. that I am less confident driving at night, finding cars with full headlights blazing a constant irritation.  But my biggest annoyance is Tailgating, with someone intimidating me by driving close behind at a distance which does not guarantee stopping to avoid collision.  And these same pests all too often have full headlights on too!  Am I becoming a Grumpy old woman?

The IAM know what they are doing and I decided they were the best people to do the Mature Drivers Assessment for me.  My appointed assessor duly arrived at my home, spot on time, and of course I was to discover she was a senior plain clothes policewoman!  She was charming and polite although I’m sure viewed me with some apprehension, as indeed I did her.  With clipboard and pencil firmly in hand she inspected my Audi A1 and finally we both climbed aboard.  Seat belts securely fastened we took to the road.

My nerves disappeared almost immediately as I concentrated on the road ahead along county lanes, a village square, main roads and the dreaded M25 motorway.  I’m an experienced driver having been behind a wheel since I was 18 years old (do your maths!).  I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the UK, usually alone, en route to work commitments or family occasions so I’m aware and wary of speed limits and road signs. The hour’s assessment passed quickly, without any major incidents or comments from my assessor, and I finally manoeuvred the car into my parking space somewhat anxious of the outcome.

The assessor requested my driving licence and eventually over a cup of coffee told me the result.  I had seemingly performed well, although she had noted that at times my speeds could have been FASTER, and I signalled a lot.  My heart sank and I felt miffed.  I commented that surely these were signs of a cautious not a reckless driver?  She responded informing me that many of my age group do the same but that overuse is unnecessary.  Secretly I decided that both were “good” faults and realised I had possibly overdone them due to her presence and the assessing situation.

Yet I was apprehensive, was I the “competent” driver I thought I was? Then the final verdict and to my relief I had passed and she was pleased and impressed with my driving skills.  Indeed I had passed with flying colours – Grade 1”Excellent”. The assessor added that she didn’t make an “Excellent” assessment too often!   I felt a great sense of self satisfaction.

Looking at the results in more detail it appeared I had shown good observation, positioning, signalling, and respect for other motorists and that I was indeed a very competent driver.  The assessor suggested I might like to take my driving skills to a higher level.  I could enrol on The Skill for Life Advanced Driving Challenge were I would be allotted an Observer who would first advise and then observe me driving my own car.  At the conclusion I would receive either a straight Pass or a Fail for my driving skills.  Um…I’ll think about it!

Apparently for a small fee of £35.00 the IAM also run modules for drivers of any age, who have specific concerns regarding their driving skills, such as difficulty with parking, or are overly nervous of driving on motorways or through country lanes.  What a great idea to help overcome a particular fear.

The cost of my Mature Driver’s Assessment was £135.00. So did I think it was worth it?    For me yes, and hopefully with such a positive result I can continue confidently behind the wheel of my own car for many years yet!

Now that’s what I call a brilliant start to New Year 2015!  Why don’t you take up the challenge? For more information……

50+ Fashion – What We Want!

Age has nothing to do with how we dress in 2015! So when will retailers realise that whatever our age we women want to dress with style?

When will they get the message that more and older women want artful clothes that which will fit their lifestyle and budget, and advice on the secret of how to pull together a look that’s flattering?

When I look through magazines, catalogues and online fashion sites all too often I see clothes advertised on thin, beautiful bodies and young faces, adding to the confusion of how they might look on me. For those of us not born yesterday we want fashion shown on real women and advice on how to adapt contemporary styles to flatter less than perfect bodies.

For example jeans and a top can be worn by a woman of any age and still look great. Denim jeans look fabulous on older women especially if the denim contains a certain percentage of Lycra which allows them to stretch, fit and help control any problem areas. The same goes for a classic pair of tailored black pants in wool, cotton or rayon plus Lycra. But no bulky front zips please! By a certain age many of us women know what silhouette and colours best flatter our figure and most have adopted a signature style. But whatever our age we want to dress with style, fashion and with a dash of fun!

When you look at fabulous women over sixty you’ll notice they often keep patterned clothes to a minimum, tending to focus more on wearing solid flattering colours. Now that I’m older I rarely wear patterned clothes but if I do I keep the design neat and simple. Importantly I’ve also discovered that whatever one size or shape it can be more is flattering to wear a block of solid colour. Doing this creates a longer, leaner look and stops cutting the body in half which makes it appear shorter. But one needs to be wary of where the top finishes, especially if it’s a sweater worn with trousers or skirt, because the eye is drawn to where the two meet and often this is the widest part of the hips. The solution is to wear a longer top which will help disguise a no longer small derriere!

It’s assumed that as we age wearing black will be a safe option. It’s true that a solid block of black creates a slim, sombre silhouette but it may need to be given a “lift” with the addition of colourful accessories. Personally I have to feel on top of the world in order to wear black well, and if I’m feeling low – wearing an all black outfit can be a big mistake! For my work in London I find the trick is to add a colourful scarf, brooch or necklace near my face in a colour that really flatters me. When you get it right, a black outfit can look sensational!

Fortunately there are an increasing number of retail outlets beginning to sell clothes in diverse styles and colours for the older woman, accepting our individual preferences and helping us express ourselves through the clothes we wear. But I would urge them to concentrate less on displaying the goods on young models’ svelte bodies and more on real mature models to show a selection of fashions fit for an older Goddess!
Women can struggle to find clothes they feel confident in because many retailers still fail to cater seriously for the age group. Won’t they realize that getting older doesn’t mean moving into frump mood, looking dowdy, drab and boring? I want retailers to be more aware of our design and colour likes and dislikes – such as less neon bright or excessively low-cut tops, dresses without sleeves, or skimpy skirts – all revealing too much less than taut skin!

I find that clothes and colours I wear can affect my mood, so when I make an effort to dress up a bit it makes me feel good, and being of a certain age doesn’t mean I can’t look attractive. Personally I like well cut stylish clothes in easy care fabrics that don’t crease and knowing my personal style helps me create a pulled-together wardrobe. As I get older I’ve observed that seasoned fashionista friends of mine are the ones who exude real style and easily compete with much younger women in making heads turn!
But back to my moan. Many older women don’t have the time or the desire to shop endlessly for clothes and feel too much emphasis is still on fashion and advice for younger women. It’s frustrating for them, most of whom have over the years learnt how to feel good about themselves and the skin they are in, but through fashionable clothes still want to recognize and express their inner goddess!

Putting on A Happy Face Can Work ..

We all feel insecure about our body image, none of us are perfect. But I’ve found the trick is to make the most of what you’ve got and put on a happy face!

At what age did I feel my best and confident of my body image? You’d think I’d say in my hey-day as the Green Goddess on breakfast telly 30 years ago, when my slinky body was held up as the picture of health. But no! Not only was I insecure about my lack of curves back then, but I was soon to be diagnosed with cancer which was to challenge my self confidence.

At the height of my career in 1988 I discovered I had breast cancer, I was 47 years of age and it was found on a routine mammogram. Anyone being told they have cancer finds it difficult to come to terms with. I felt cancer happened to other people not to me and for a week after diagnosis I believed there had been a mistake, I was in total denial. But in August 1988 I finally I signed the consent form and underwent a double mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction in which implants were inserted directly under my skin.

Along with facing the physical battle of breast cancer many women feel the treatments of the disease are an onslaught to their femininity and have a tough time battling body image issues. A poll by the charity Breast Cancer Care found “88% of people who have had breast cancer say the disease has had a negative impact on the way they feel about their bodies…. and 68% say that it affected their sexual and intimate relationships.” Possibly due to my fitness level I made a remarkable physical recovery and was back on television within three months, but the emotional journey was to be ongoing.

My own body image had never been good. I grew up in the Fifties when femininity was associated with the voluptuous bosoms and waspish waists of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Meanwhile, I was 5ft 10” positively skinny, and stooped a bit to conceal my towering height. I bought a size 32A bra to boost my small boobs and made my own clothes in an effort to disguise them altogether!

I married at 19 and soon started a family. My breasts swelled to double their size during pregnancies and I felt a like a ‘real woman’. It was fun to dress in more flirty feminine fashions which made it easier to put on my happy face! I was disappointed when my boobs eventually shrunk back, but with two boisterous boys to contend with my priorities were in perspective!

In 1983, and by then in my 40s with 2 adult sons, I joined the BBC for the launch of Breakfast TV as their fitness guru, dressed in a green lycra leotard. Millions admired my lithe physique, and the national papers praised me with headlines like ‘Who is this “Green Goddess?’ which spawned my nickname! Life on TV every morning was hectic and exciting, but sadly during this time… and after 27 years… my marriage floundered.

Regrettably I took up with a Jack the Lad character and the relationship progressed with us getting married on my 50th birthday. It wasn’t an easy time, during which my body rejected the breast implants, resulting in more surgery and new prosthesis. Within a short time of marriage my new husband betrayed me. Divorce followed immediately but I pulled myself up by my boot straps and (with some difficulty) put on a happy face.

But the betrayal had shaken my confidence and I had body image issues. However, I found that talking to other women helped put my problems into perspective. My female friends are very important to me, many of whom have also battled breast cancer. These special friends I call my “bosom pals”!

But my battle wasn’t yet over… and just 2 years ago an MRI scan revealed that after more than 20 years my replacement prosthesis had ruptured. Again I underwent major breast surgery, but thanks to my brilliant NHS surgeon I now look as good as new and life goes on! At the age of 74, and after my recent third bi-lateral reconstruction in as many decades, I finally feel at ease with myself. I’m happy, healthy and lead a very active life, both socially and professionally and live life to the full; you do when you’ve been given a second chance!

Most of us will experience a problem or two during life which may affect our body image and knock our confidence. My advice is to think positive, try to put on a happy face, and who knows…… perhaps the best is yet to come!

Love Later Life

Love Later Life… a positive attitude to ageing appears to be the key to enjoying longevity.

It’s time for a reappraisal of ageing. Recently there has been a lot in the daily papers about research from AgeUK which found that more than ¾ of adults are looking forward to living longer. However, 9 out of 10 feel strongly that something needs to be done to ensure quality in later life plus a change in the negative view of getting older. It concluded that a positive attitude to ageing appears to be the key to enjoying longevity.

1 in 5 people in the UK will be aged 65 and over by the year 2020 and this should be a real cause for celebration. But research revealed that treating older people with dignity and respect in care homes and hospitals is one of the most important aspects of later life that needs to be addressed.

AgeUK is the national charity that supports people in later life and with this in mind recently launched its new vision of older age entitled “Love Later Life”. I am delighted to have been personally associated with AgeUK for the past 25 years, and as an Ambassador was asked to launch their project with a series of radio interviews around the UK. The charity hopes to challenge the negative perception of ageing and to inspire people of all ages to come together to change later life, for the better.

A more inspirational approach needs to be encouraged to show people, young and old alike that longevity can be fulfilling. We need to reassess ageing, the perceptions of later life, to think differently about growing older and to demonstrate that older people have a valued role in society. Everyone should have the opportunity to be happy in their older age and should be inspired to make changes for the better to insure they will enjoy the rest of their life, as far as is possible. Of course we must acknowledge the realities of getting older and facing new challenges, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting and preparing as best we can, for a fulfilling, independent later life.

Speaking personally I believe it is of the upmost importance to maintain good health throughout life. It’s a bit like an insurance policy; the more you put into it over the years the more there is to pull on in times of adversity. Wellbeing can prepare your body and mind for the many challenges, physical, mental and emotional, that most of us will experience with the passing years.

I also feel very strongly that interaction between my generation and young people is vital in order to create respect and admiration for all concerned. I’ll admit to being a bit “techy” myself, but would encourage everyone of my generation to be computer literate too. Today being conversant with technology is increasingly important because it helps bridge the generation gap by making communication easier, particularly with young people.

Speaking personally, and as a grandmother of four teenagers, I’m interested in, and like to get involved with whatever youth gets up to, albeit music, art, fashion, street language or dance. And fortunately for me it seems I’m appreciated by younger people for my experience of many years in the media, which appears to make me “cool” in their eyes and a more interesting person to know! Interaction between old and young needs to be encouraged, it’s special and can be very beneficial to all concerned.

Now in my mid 70’s I still work as a broadcaster and writer. Each week on the new DAB radio station “The Wireless” I have a regular one hour programme called “We’ve Got Mail” where with the help of experts we tackle older people’s problems and concerns. Broadcasting, plus my voluntary charity work keeps my very, very busy! But I’m lucky in that I do have a positive attitude to later life which helps me to keep physically and mentally active. I also watch what I eat, and when I do have time for myself I love to travel and pursue my hobbies – painting and sketching being my favourites. You see I really do Love Later Life!

Radio station http://www.thewireless/ageUK

Feeling Stressed? Then Find A Hobby And Learn to Relax!

Far too many of us living in large cities or busy communities find ourselves leading fast and furious lives. With ever more competitive working conditions some run the risk of becoming stressed, anxious or depressed resulting in a decreasing quality of life, sleep disturbance, drug and alcohol abuse, and poor performance.  Stress can, and will at some point in many peoples lives take a heavy toll on our minds and bodies, with acute stress having an adverse effect on our health.  Stress can suppress our immune functions and lead to a possible increase of infections and ailments, including hypertension, digestive disturbances, heart disorders and other distressing conditions which could shorten our life expectancy.

It is therefore important to recognise when things are getting out of hand, and to find a method of controlling our stress levels in order to maintain good health. Of course doctors can help control our anxieties by prescribing drugs or a variety of psychological techniques, but having a hobby could help take you out of your stressful life for a while. The Oxford Dictionary defines a hobby as “A favourite occupation not one’s main business”.

Personally I think it is within most of us to find a hobby or an activity which can help us “switch off” by doing something that could be invigorating, relaxing, educational, fun or if you are lucky, a little of everything.  Many people find that an appropriate programme of physical activity does the trick for them, since exercise has been proven to have positive effects on health.  But if exercise is to be effective in inducing relaxation, as well as physical prowess, then it must be non competitive, moderate in intensity, and pursued in pleasant surroundings. From my own experience of 45 years working in the fitness business I know this is proven to be both reliable and enjoyable.

Hobbies and other leisure activities can have many health benefits and there is evidence to prove that staying mentally active may actually help delay Alzheimer’s disease and keep our minds sharp. A hobby can not only prevent the harmful effects of stress but make life richer and more rewarding. My hobby is to draw and paint and when doing so I can lose myself for hours and forget the worries of the world. Studies have shown there can be a direct connection between painting and a reduction of stress levels. Its long been acknowledged that Clinical art therapy, used by therapists to encourage self-expression and improve communication for patients suffering from severe mental health conditions are effective.  Individuals affected by severe anxiety or stress are known to benefit from expressing their creative side through developing their painting skills, often in the company of others. Many hobbies help lonely people feel connected by encouraging them to interact with others, sometimes in a class of people who share the same interest.

Being involved in the process of making a picture is very therapeutic, but no one method works for everybody and other people find different ways to alleviate their stress. The secret is to choose a hobby that not only sparks your interest but engages you mentally, gives you an outlet to explore your creativity and makes you a more rounded, interesting person. People who do take time off from their routine work to pursue their hobby are more likely to be active, busy and cheerful.

As the saying goes “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.  I have worked hard all my life but try to find time for my hobbies, another of which is travel. It’s thrilling to visit new places, to meet with different kinds of people of various cultures, and it also gives me the chance to capture the atmosphere in paint!   As an author I find writing similarly as therapeutic to painting, the method of capturing what I see around me is the same exciting process. In both instances I am confronted with a blank piece of paper and the determination to put down and record what I see and feel. The creative process is the same, the desire to capture the moment, albeit in images or words. Creating a picture in words or paint is hard work and the first marks I make on that blank paper or canvas are the most challenging.

Having a hobby can help you achieve a well-balanced lifestyle. Maybe you already unwind through either listening to, or making music?  I know many people who find their hobby of cooking, gardening, fishing, photography, travelling or observing nature relaxes them.  Most of us need to try out a few pastimes before we discover the one which is most beneficial for us personally.  For example gardening develops a sense of eco-responsibility in our minds and can keep us in touch with Nature. A garden full of trees, flowers, vegetables and fruit not only looks beautiful but can give endless hours of pleasure. Gardening is another of my hobbies, delighting my senses and giving me relief from a world full of tension and pollution. And I get to paint the flowers!

Yes, painting pictures is still my number one hobby, or to be more precise my passion and I indulge it whenever I can! I’ve always had the desire to draw whatever I’ve seen around me and as a child it was my dream to become an artist.  But my strict father insisted painting was a precarious profession, and he was right of course! I may be an adequate amateur artist but only the truly exceptional make it in the art world!  At my Grammar School I was taught to draw and paint which opened up endless possibilities of style, colour, media and technique. Painting never lost its appeal but busy intervening years restricted my time, however now in my 70’s I’m fortunate to have more opportunity to pursue my passion.

My preferred medium is oils and my strengths are painting still life and landscapes. Painting in oils allow me the freedom to be spontaneous, to re-act quickly to drama – a vision, a colour, light or shade with the comfortable knowledge that changes can be made to the picture at a later stage. I particularly enjoy painting views and everywhere I look around me I see a scene, a colour, a light or a mood I want to capture. My favourite artist and my inspiration is the dramatic French impressionist Claude Monet. Like Monet I am enchanted by water and the lights and shades that play upon it. I suppose being a “Green Goddess” it follows that I love plants and trees too and am fascinated by the reflections of every colour they create alongside water.

Living as I do at the side of a river and with many beautiful lakes in the area I have no shortage of inspiration. Painting in oils is my preferred medium although I must admit oil painting can get a bit messy at times! I often work as a motivational speaker aboard cruise ships enabling me to travel the world, but always carry a sketchpad and paints in my luggage.
I find painting in water colour more restrictive, although a practical medium when I am travelling. For me the technique is more challenging because of the need to be disciplined, and to plan ahead. This is necessary in order to avoid disasters, because mistakes are harder to rectify in water colours. I become uptight, tend to lose my spontaneity and consequently find this medium less therapeutic to work in than oils. But I intend to keep on trying!

I’ve recently started working with acrylic paints which I find exciting because the technique is a combination of both oil and water colour disciplines. However one advantage of painting in acrylics is that mistakes can be rectified and changes easily made as they can when one paints with oils.  Because travelling is an important part of my life acrylics also have the advantage (along with water colour) of being less messy, less paraphernalia required than oils, quick to dry and easy to transport.   But whenever possible I opt to paint in my preferred medium oils in the style of Monet, and preferably like him, out in the open air! My aim is to simplify what I see, to try to capture a momentary impression instead of laboriously painting detail and exactly what I see. This allows me to work quickly and gives me the freedom to experiment with colours and techniques.
I am by no means an “accomplished “artist but I do enjoy creating a picture full of colour and passion. When I finally finish a painting to the best of my ability in whatever media, I am exhausted, but then whoever said painting was easy? But I will admit to deriving pleasure when I can stand back to consider my efforts, and with some satisfaction think to myself wow – I did that!

We most of us need and should have some ‘me time’ in which the responsibilities of modern life can be forgotten!   For myself dedicating some time on a regular basis to painting helps me achieve this balance. So what is it about painting that has this positive effect?  Well one of the main reasons that art therapy has proved to be successful is due to the accumulative effects of several well known key benefits associated with the act of painting. These benefits include self-care, distraction and flow. So how does this work?Self-care means taking care of yourself and taking part in activities purely for the benefit or your own well-being.  From the moment I get out my paints, brushes, canvas or board I begin the process of creating. The creative act is a great way of distracting my thoughts from whatever is causing me stress or anxiety. During my hours of painting I can dwell calmly on my concerns, see things more clearly, which helps me to deal with problems and put them into perspective.

I am lost in thought for hours whilst I paint.  Often I disregard meal times and with good music in the background I am temporarily – distracted.  Of course it is only a momentary effect, but I find that the relaxation gained is so beneficial. Painting helps me to achieve a positive state of mind – known as “flow”.  This state of mind occurs when an individual doing an activity is totally immersed with strong feelings of involvement and focus. Ideally this is what all hobbies should deliver to the individual participating.

Hobbies are more than just ways to creatively pass the time; they are good for your mind and body. Hobbies give pleasure and can soothe the soul and a hobby should not be pursued to make a profit nor need it be expensive. So set aside some time where you can do something simply for the purpose of self-enjoyment.

The artistic pursuit of painting is certainly the one which helps me counter the stress caused by my hectic modern lifestyle. My creative product isn’t of any commercial value, but does give me satisfaction and I gain so much from the dedication and hard work I put into it. The list of hobbies and pastimes is never ending so I do hope you can find one that works for you!