My Garden

To own a garden is to possess a piece of heaven on earth, in my case a very small bit. But contrary to what the advertising world wants us to believe, size doesn’t always matter! Small can be beautiful, as I know from the pleasure my modest suburban garden gives me. Working in London makes me feel tense and caged in, but arriving at my house and garden on the edge of the River Thames 12 miles out of Town, I immediately begin to unwind and feel normal again. Whether I’m working physically in my garden, or simply sitting around enjoying the beauty, it helps rid me of frustrations.

I travel with my work, but as the song goes, “ it’s oh so nice to come home.” On arrival, before opening the door, I find myself dead-heading plants which grow in, or tumble out of, my hanging baskets and pots. A favourite flower is the pansy, whose cheeky face greets me back home like a member of a colourful, happy family. My well-nurtured brood respond to my care and attention, by regularly producing even more cheery faces to delight and amuse me!

In my small north facing back garden I’ve tried to create my own secret garden and I based my design on circles. Circles of green grass, paved circles of warm stone, and a circular shaped gazebo, the latter proving to be a major success. This dark mysterious cavern has finally taken shape after 7 years, as winter jasmine, trachelospermum jasminoides, with its dark shiny foliage and exquisite fragrant white flowers has slowly and methodically twisted its way up and around the supports. But each spring, a dead looking vine planted in the same year, madeleine sylvaner, suddenly springs into life, and starts its annual frenetic and aggressive race up and over the circular dome of the gazebo, fighting off anything that gets in it’s way!

Four crescent moon shaped flowerbeds, the result of the circular designed lawn, are well stocked with permanent residents such as phlomis, rosemary and lavender, many given to me by, and reminding me of, loved ones. Evergreens including spruce, cypress, bay and hebes, along with lilac and forsythia in springtime, provide height and shape. Four enormous egg shaped terracotta pots containing photinia serrulata red robin, stand amongst other pots, on wooden trolleys with wheels in the paved area. These can be moved effortlessly from one position to another, affording privacy or shade where and when required.

Poor soil and strong winds make gardening by the river difficult, but I’ve learnt over years which plants better suit these conditions. The sun rose, halimiocistus, is one of my success stories. In early spring this hardy shrub produces endless cream and pink saucer shaped flowers replacing them daily with fresh ones. A welcome sight as we move out of winter and a sure sign that summer isn’t far behind.

Accepting the poor soil and my erratic work schedule, has led me to the conclusion that assorted pots, troughs, hanging baskets and containers are the horticultral solution. Arranged informally the terracotta, stone and timber containers respond to regular watering and feeding, and can be simply re-potted to accommodate the changing seasons. Container gardening is practical, and many of the tubs and pots can be easily moved to facilitate people or occasions. Cleared away for example, to make more play space on the arrival of my boisterous grandchildren, or artistically re-positioned for dramatic effect at more sophisticated adult gatherings

The well-used barbecue and garden furniture, circular table of course, encourages entertaining el fresco. Freshly plucked herbs add piquant seasonings and aromas to simple fare at these informal, spontaneous and enjoyable gatherings. The garden changes according to mood and requirement, and can become an oasis of calm in which to sit to write, learn scripts or choreograph my movement classes
Weather permitting I will be found in my garden, scratching around like an early bird after the worm, happily lost in a world of my own. I find gardening very therapeutic and love being out in the fresh air whatever the weather, in my green wellies wrapped up against the winds and cold. I enjoy being physically active, digging the soil, and pitting my strength against robust plants or objects as I go about my outdoor tasks.

But mostly I love the peace and tranquillity I experience on a balmy summer night, sitting quietly alone, drink in hand, communing with the sights, sounds and smells of nature. It’s my idea of heaven!
I believe everyone should be able to enjoy the simple pleasures of a garden milieu. The sad fact is, that many disabled people still face barriers that prevent them from enjoying the slice of heaven gardens can bring.

Of course, if you don’t have your own garden, there are always parks and public gardens. Though many of these garden amenities are thankfully designed so that they are accessible to disabled people, accessing public transport is still an insurmountable obstacle for up to a third of disabled people in getting to them in the first place.
As someone whose life is so enriched by the love of gardens, I am pleased to see more work being done to give equal opportunities and equal access to public gardens for disabled people.

Cosmetic Surgery

Ageing American film stars started the cosmetic surgery craze for eradicating the signs of ageing back in the 1950’s, now its commonplace.   British women held back, the biggest deterrent was public opinion which considered signs of ageing should be stoically accepted, vanity discouraged, looks unimportant and even correcting birthmarks or defects as “meddling with nature”. What really mattered was “inner beauty”.

British attitudes have changed, and the demand for facelifts, body sculpturing and other non-invasive procedures is on the increase. We’re led to believe that superficial beauty leads to happiness and success.  The media puts excessive pressure on us to get work done, to re-capture youth and many ordinary women feel they must have surgery to compete in the workplace and socially.   We are saturated with gory details of personalities who insist cosmetic surgery has perfected their lives, and women convinced strive to fund expensive surgery, wishing to follow their example,  Expectations are high; they seek an improvement in looks and life, particularly love life.  Maybe feelings of inadequacy do disappear along with wrinkles, and women no longer cringe from intimacy, but in their moment of abandonment they should remember faces and hands don’t necessarily match!

I feel we need to fight back, many women who refuse or can’t afford cosmetic surgery feel condemned losers.   Expense aside I’m opting out because I’ve had enough necessary surgery for health reasons in the past and I know it’s possible to age brilliantly using our own resources.  Of course I see familiar signs of ageing, things gradually slipping downwards, due to gravity, but I don’t want to look 21 again nor do I want a blank and expressionless face.  I’m proud of my laughter lines; they show my character and sense of humour.

Maybe I’m just a coward, but I’m content to observe others putting themselves through the ordeal to correct abnormalities or hold back time, most of who do appear both physically and psychologically lifted.

But I have chosen the natural route preferring to age gracefully.  Throughout the years have kept myself in shape with regular, moderate exercise, and a varied nutritious diet.  Yes, there is loss of muscle tone, and I do observe things “dropping” helped on by the forces of gravity.

I’ve religiously looked after my dry, sensitive skin (moisturising is a must) and off course skin eventually ages, looses plumpness, becomes thinner and dryer.  But skin also reflects lifestyle and inactivity, poor diet, smoking, drinking, sunbathing, stress, lack of fresh air make things worse. Some bad habits can be avoided, like facial expressions which habitually performed over time give us individual looks.  A positive smile uses 7 muscles whilst a negative frown uses 32.  So be happy – less wrinkles!

We can’t turn back the clock but small changes make a big difference, and wellness and happiness can help delay the ageing process.  Make the most of what you’ve got, let your inner beauty shine through and you’ll keep looking younger naturally!



I Was A Girl Guide

First I was a Brownie in Somerset, then a Brownie ( Sprite) and GirlGuide (Daffodil) when we moved house to Gloucestershire. Guiding helped instil in me the importance of a healthy lifestyle – and leadership – and confidence in oneself. I had a strict upbringing and my father kept me like a coiled spring under his thumb. Guiding released that spring. I had so much energy – I still do – and I was able to channel it into leadership and motivating people. It gave me the guidelines for my life and career.

I even used my guiding skills recently. I did a sponsored trek along the Great Wall of China with 34 other women raising funds for Breast Cancer Care charity. At one point we came to a fork in the mountain paths. I was in the first of our two groups. Calling on my Girl Guide training, I blocked a path with large stones and drew an enormous arrow in the soft earth with my trekking stick to indicate to the other group the route we had taken.

Obesity is on the rise in young people and it’s difficult to teach girls about being fit and healthy.  But as Guides if girls see Leaders preparing healthy food they will learn that it’s good for them. And not using the word ‘exercise’ – because that’s boring – but playing games or just being outdoors is healthy and beneficial too. I played rounders as a Brownie and Guide and I got fit without even realising it!

I feel strongly about women’s issues such as breast cancer, osteoporosis and ageing. I’m generally interested in the successful ageing of women. Now is a wonderful time to be an older woman. If you keep a check on your health then the world is your oyster. Many women are sadly on their own – as I am. But I don’t have to stay at home as my grandmother would have done. I go on holidays and to restaurants with my girl friends – it’s like being a Girl Guide again!

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was 48 and felt confused, angry and somehow “ashamed”. I was supposed to be this health guru and suddenly I was unwell. I felt I’d done something wrong and I only told a handful of people. Clare my lifelong friend had been both a Brownie and Guide with me.  I confided all my hopes and fears in her.
I would advise other people who are diagnosed to talk and ask questions to arm themselves with information, check their breasts and have mammograms regularly. If found in its early stages, cancer needn’t be a killer.
Being a Girl Guide taught me the basic tips to for a fit and healthy lifestyle.

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Lots of fresh food
  • Keep active
  • Get involved with the younger generation.

(It keeps your feet on the ground,up to speed with what is going on and stops you saying ‘not in my day’)

The Joys Of Maturity

The baby boomers, those people born immediately after the war have finally grown up and joined the ranks of the over 60’s.. Generally speaking, older adults in the UK today are healthier, have experience, knowledge, and more disposable income than previous generations. Personally I feel comfortable with my maturity and I’ve finally come to accepting myself – warts and all. I regard this time of life as primetime, a bonus. Not all would agree. Within the 60+ group there appears a division, the majority plan positively for the future, but a minority still feel extremely negative about it.

Knowledge acquired throughout life is invaluable, and shouldn’t be allowed to go to waste. It could be said that we mature folk are chronologically advantaged, because we have so much to offer. Traditionally in past generations old age was coveted, and still in some societies in the world today. Young people sought their grandparents knowledge and guidance and found them a source of wisdom and inspiration. Respect is disappearing and ageism is a fact of modem day life. We mature people must stop the rot before the young successfully trample us down. We need to reclaim or position in society. We need to empower and re-establish ourselves as people who matter. Mature people have a great deal to offer – not least of which is experience.

Today, because of early retirement, many men and women who have had successful careers have time, as well as money, to spend. . Free from the constraints of paid work and family commitment they can indulge their fancies, experiment, experience and explore new horizons. Being alone (but not lonely), and with my family grown and flown, I have the opportunity to do as I please. I can travel and meet new friends, reacquaint myself with old ones, and on a whim, change direction. I play tennis, tend my garden, paint in oils and mess about in boats. I’m a superactive 70-year-old and am physically, mentally and sexually active. I love the challenge that modem life can.offer mature women.

“Don’t look for the flaws as you go through ife
And even when you find them
‘Tis wise and kind to be sometimes blind
And to look for the virtues behind them” (Victorian scrap book)

Reflections On My Maturity

When I picked up my Bus Pass after celebrating my 60th birthday, I remember reflecting over the previous 60 years, my youth and my middle age, mostly with gratitude, but also with a few regrets.   I also remembered looking forward, with hope and optimism to the millennium and to my future as an older woman, in what I hoped would be my primetime.   The year was 2000 and I hoped the years to follow would have the potential of being an exciting and challenging time for mature women like me in the UK.    I considered myself fortunate to be living at a time in history when finally women’s talents and strengths were receiving recognition and reward and that my generation of women had the opportunity to change the perception of growing older for generations of younger women to follow.

Having reached 60 years of blissful retirement sprung to my mind, thoughts of spare time in which to finally do all those things I’ve been aching to do for years.  Just simple things like pursuing my hobbies, painting in oils, sewing, and gardening. Then there were more exciting things I was previously unable to do because of work and family commitments, like serious walking, travelling abroad and furthering my education.   One thing on top of my list was to go back to school to conquer the complexities of my computer, e-mail, Internet and all!   That had to be a priority if I was to keep up with the younger generation, talk their language and gain their respect.   Modern technology divides the generations like nothing else into who can – and who can’t!

60 years was the official retirement age for women of my age (born 1939 and those a few years younger).   In the past 10 years the age of retirement has gradually risen over to bring women into line with the men.   But for me that momentous 60th birthday theoretically signified the official ending of my working life and the beginning of an idyllic period of retirement.  And to cushion my old age, I was finally entitled to a state pension, which I worked hard for over all those years. Well – so much for the theory. Now 10 years on having celebrated my 70th I must confess that my 60th birthday was where the idyll ended and reality began.

In some ways mature women today have never had it so good.   Convention and social attitudes of the past no longer bind, and the preconceived traditional image of age is fast changing.   Modern women have to a large extent been liberated from the constraints and frustrations of previous generations by the advent of feminism in the 60’s and 70’s, which helped create the independent female.   More importantly, women today no longer have to put up with the “put down” by men, who in past generations harboured the degrading assumption that women were subservient to men.   In fact quite the opposite is clearly demonstrated today by the increasing number of female achievers reaching the top of their chosen profession or trade by sheer hard work and ability.

Even so for the high achievers who do manage to scale the heights there are still many talented, conscientious women who don’t fully achieve position and just recognition.   And some older female workers have further concerns, for within the female rank itself inequality in the form of ageism can sometimes rear its ugly head with modern employment trends favouring younger women.  Despite their experience, some capable mature women are frustrated and insulted by the promotion of inexperienced young women, purely on an age basis.  But with recent changes in the employment laws things are now moving in the right direction and older women are now being recognised for their merits.

And for myself – how do I find life 10 years on?   I’ve never been busier or felt more

fulfilled…..age is but a number!