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In Praise of 80 year olds

Over the past few months I’ve been researching for a new book which focuses on the older adult. I mean in their late seventies and eighties because being sixty, I don’t consider myself old. It’s all relative.

  My father retired aged sixty five from nursing and being on his own, three months later went back to work as a volunteer in the Nightingale hospice in Derby until his sudden death at eighty six. He was an inspiration to so many people as he gave back in his later years and wanted nothing in return. I realise not everyone is lucky to enjoy such good health as he did in their later years or they may have difficulty getting out of the house for various reasons.

   While Judi Dench said in an interview with the Telegraph in 2015, “ There is nothing good about being 80,” she has continued along with some of her contemporaries to carry on performing, insisting that she had no intention of retiring and was all for trying new things.

  This is inspirational for those of us who are already looking ahead and wondering what the advancing years will have in store for us. As a writer, providing I don’t lose my faculties, I hope to keep writing because there is nobody to stop me. Continuing to be published is another matter but then Mary Wesley was described as defying literary convention by becoming a best-selling novelist at the age of seventy. Hope for me yet.

   What about those octogenarians who haven’t risen to fame and fortune? How are they making the best of their golden years? I decided to find out and came across someone I would like to tell you about.

  A year ago, I took up acrylic painting, daubing more like, and watched young, enthusiastic artists on You Tube teaching how to paint trees and bananas. When I got fed up with fruit in a bowl, I searched out new people and came across a uplifting watercolourist who has been painting for over seventy years. His name is Alan Owen from Lancashire. Now in his eighties, he shares his talent on You Tube two or three times a week, specialising in the loose style of Edward Wesson. Not only has he mastered the technology of filming while he’s painting, he treats his online students like friends, chatting away in his broad Lancashire accent. He always has a kind word or a joke and thanks us by name from time to time for tuning in. Good, old fashioned kindness.

  Many of us comment that it’s like being next to him having a cuppa while he paints. Some of us wish we lived next door to him. Even if you don’t want to paint, it’s so relaxing to watch him work. Why not check him out?

  Alan mentors those of us who didn’t know one end of a paintbrush from the other and encourages us by saying, “Come on, you can do that, I know you can.” Not like my bullying art teacher at Grammar School in the late 60s. If anyone criticises him, he handles it with courtesy and aplomb, an example to anyone who would like to attack the internet trolls with some scalpel sharp retort.

   I am sure there are many others out there who are passing on their talents; painting, knitting, mending, woodwork or whatever and we should be applauding them for their time and generosity.

  Eighty might not be the new sixty but it’s no longer something I fear. Move over Mary Wesley. I’m next in line.

Links

Alan Owen https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjfgIsGMmaGtG8DAgmdeYng

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1417551/Mary-Wesley.html

 

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The Highland Cattle Painting

‘Condolences on the loss of your father,’ said the solicitor through the thicket of his beard. ‘Now for the tricky matter of the painting. Hmm.’

Jayne tugged at her navy skirt, watching as his eyes darted across some papers. They called her Miss Navy Blue at school because she was dull.

‘The matter of the Highland Cattle painting,’ he pushed a photograph across the desk,’ was not made clear in the will. Your brother is insisting, shall I say demanding that it should be sent to him in America. The painting itself is worth very little.’

Jayne’s eyes barely flickered. Mr. Sharpe frowned.

‘Why shouldn't he  have it? You have the other two paintings. Much more valuable.’

Jayne allowed a smile to flicker at the corner of her lips.

‘Because…’ she relished the words as they foamed gently on her tongue.

‘He’s dead. I killed him. In Baltimore. Yesterday.’

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A day in the life of a writer

  • Published in Writing

I am at my most productive and creative between 8am and 2pm. After that my eyes are sore at staring at the screen and my neck and shoulders feel they’ve been put through a mangle.

My day starts with a cup of strong tea with soya milk and one home-made ginger biscuit. Gluten and fat free. As somebody who suffers with gastric problems I find the ginger helps to settle my stomach. The Today programme helps me keep in touch with what’s going on in the world but if John Humphries slips into bullying and talking over people I press the off button. I guess my tolerance levels have dipped since I’ve got older.

Today I am working in my spacious dining kitchen where it is warm. I am usually a tidy worker but today I'm in a bit of a creative tailspin. That’s because I am editing my second book and need to spread out my notes and ideas across the table.

The thought of restructuring parts of a novel is daunting but once I am into it I find it therapeutic. Like pruning or mowing the lawn. It’s got to be done if you want the best results.

Editing gets confused with proof reading. It isn’t as easy as casting a careful eye looking for typos or punctuation errors. It’s about ripping sections out that slow down the pace of novel, condensing dialogue from a ramble to something more snappy. Anything that on a second, third or fourth reading sounds clumsy needs to be rewritten to help with the flow. You might need to shuffle paragraphs around to a different part of the book or get rid of them all together.

Today I’ve gorged a hole in  two chapters that now need to be rewritten and introduced a new concept to replace the old. It’s hard slog  tiring but ultimately satisfying when you see the improvements.

By 1pm I’m word blind so it’s time for my daily adventure into the outside world. Living in Malvern gives me quick access to all sorts of walks where I can exchange pleasantries with early morning dog walkers on the common or engage in some serious hiking on North Hill which lies behind my house. I’ve just returned from a trip into Great Malvern where I get to people- watch in one of the many coffee houses. The town attracts a lot of writers and people who work from home so there is usually somebody to natter with.

Lunch is usually vegetable soup and a lie down for an hour. I don’t know how President Trump keeps up his schedule! 

I’ve recently taken up painting so this afternoon I shall make a start on a scene I photographed in the Peak District at the weekend. Churchill said that painting was a perfect way to relax an overworked brain. I failed art at school but having  attended an art therapy class in town I was encouraged to keep trying.  Sometimes that’s all you need.  I love daubing landscapes in acrylics using the techniques and the approach of the impressionists. If I think it looks like a tree then it is a tree!

My friend will be calling in around 4pm for a gossip and to tell me her thoughts on The Cruelty of Lambs. I do know that she had to keep putting it down for a breather as she found it very intense.

Tonight I am singing with a local choir that meets in Malvern every two weeks. I squeeze in an hour of reading during the day as writers do need to read across a range of books. At the moment I am enjoying Lost in Static by Christina Phillipou published by Urbane Publications. Being an early riser (6am) I find myself flagging around eight o’clock. I’m a radio addict so it’s always a treat to listen to Radio 4 extra for some of the old comedies or a play.

Before I drift off, I shall exchange my daily email with my friend in Chicago. She’s a democrat and has her regular rants about Trump and the state of the nation. I’ve learned more about American politics in the last year than I ever needed to know.

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