edited by Robin Lloyd-Jones
PUBLICATION DATE: 10th April 2019
CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON KINDLE: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07NPW1L29
As the proportion of people over 65 in the UK increases, a better understanding of what underpins an active later life is becoming more important - to all of us.
In a series of interviews with remarkable people over 70, all of them nominated for the annual Times-Sternberg award, The New Frontier documents the impact of different influences over their lives and provides readers with a unique viewpoint on how important it is that we make, and are seen to make, a valuable contribution to society at all ages, especially older age.
Ranging from Dame Esther Rantzen, and her work in setting up Silverline, a helpline for the elderly, to John Lubbock, the founder of the Orchestra of St. John's, which tours the country providing music to families and children living with autism, the interviews confirm the importance of taking a positive view of old age and its possibilities, both for the individual and their community.
The Rt Hon Lord Hunt of Kings Heath PC, OBE - The huge contribution that older people make to society is so well exampled in this excellent book. Each section is testimony to the ingenuity, and sheer determination of extraordinary people to contribute to society. It gives the lie to any idea that the older generations do not give back to society.
Baroness Sally Greengross OBE - I welcome The New Frontier: Making a Difference in Later Life as a valuable supplement to and illustration of aspects of the work being done by the New Dynamics of Ageing (NDA) Programme, the most ambitious research programme on ageing ever undertaken in the UK.
Sluckin, A. and Jehu, D. (1969) A behavioural approach in the treatment of elective mutism, British Journal of Psychiatric Social Work, 10, 2, 70-73.
Sluckin, A. and Kanner, A. (1973) On autism - report and reflections, Communication (Journal of the National Society for Autistic Children) Vol. 7, No. 1.
Sluckin, A. (1973) Focus on childhood autism. Social Work To d a y, Vo l . 4 , 4.
Read more "ALICE SLUCKIN PUBLICATIONS"
BY ROBIN LLOYD-JONES
This is an extract from the chapter I wrote about my own creativity in later life from my book, Autumn Voices: Scottish writers over 70 talk about creativity in later life. I was 80 when I wrote this and am now 84 and very definitely still writing.
Not until I was seventy-three did I take up photography seriously, buying a decent camera and going on a landscape photography course. I am especially drawn to landscape and nature photography. Thinking about what would make a good shot and trying to record visually the beauty encountered has heightened my appreciation of the natural environment and also influenced how I record this in words. I have found that any kind of creative activity stimulates, informs and illuminates my creativity in other areas. My late arrival in photography links with the general slowing down I mentioned previously. I notice more because I go slower, which leads me to take more photographs and, in doing so, to focus more intently on the detail than before; taking photographs slows me down so that I notice more – another benign circle or upward spiral which has taught me the difference between seeing as compared to merely looking, and to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Learning new things keeps the brain active, sharp and flexible. The kind of things I write – both non-fiction and fiction, books with a historical setting, biography - require a lot of research. Just about everything I have written has resulted in tottering piles of reference books filling my study – new learning, fresh viewpoints and perspectives on life. The Sunlit Summit, a biography of W.H. Murray, written in my late seventies, demanded a huge amount of research, as the bibliography at the end will testify.
I was confident that my creativity would not diminish as I aged, but was surprised by the unexpected release of new creative energy. It wasn’t so much that I was no longer permanently stressed and tired from work at the Education Offices, but other things which I was hardly aware of at the time. Only now, when I come to write this chapter do I begin to recognise them. The period when my grandchildren, Chloe and Andre, were of pre-school age coincided with my late sixties and early seventies. They came regularly to our house and I would play with them - games which invariably began ‘Grandad, let’s pretend ....’; games in which the imagination held sway and the boundaries between fantasy and reality were blurred. So much creativity stems from play, from allowing the mind to be playful. Playing with my grandchildren rejuvenated the playfulness in me.
From my mid-sixties onwards I have done a great deal of travelling abroad: as a representative of Scottish PEN at international conferences, as a speaker at literary gatherings, as a cruise lecturer, or on grants for research purposes, or simply going on holiday. Not only has this given me new material to write about, it has counteracted a growing fondness for the familiar and the routine which has been creeping over me. Travel gets me out of my comfort zone and stimulates and challenges my mind with new ideas, with different values and customs, and my senses with new sights, sounds, smells and tastes; and it enables me to meet and talk to a range of people outside my regular group of friends.
Learning to forgive has released huge amounts of creative energy that were imprisoned by anger and resentment. I used to think that forgiveness was some sort of magnanimous favour you bestowed on those who had wronged you. It needed the maturity that comes with age to see that, most of all, it is something you do for yourself, something liberating and healing. In 2007, when I was seventy-three, I attended a weekend course, run by psychotherapist Nick Duffel, entitled ‘Boarding School Survivors’. It was for people like me who were still grappling with the damage caused by being sent to boarding school at age seven or eight, away from home, parents and pets, living in a loveless environment, and hiding behind a protective mask twenty-four hours of the day, seven days of the week. In such a confined society, hatreds and rivalries were intense. I found, aged seventy, that I was still having fantasies of revenge on various boys. Nick Duffel helped me get over this, to let go of it, to understand and forgive. It released so much new creative energy. That I left it so late before doing this is, I think, an age-related thing – the growing compulsion to tidy up loose ends and put one’s house in order.
A fear of death and worrying about when it would happen and what it would be like was constantly in the back of my mind, surfacing whenever I heard or read of the death of someone close to my age or younger. The turning point came when my wife suggested that one way of coming to terms with my fear might be to look it in the face by planning my own funeral in detail. And it worked! Shortly after this I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My PSA level was so high that the consultant could see no other outcome than death. At the best I had maybe a couple of years left, at the worst, only a few months. It didn’t happen and I am now completely cured. Having planned my funeral and already accepted that one day I would die, none of this seemed so terrible at the time. It banished any lingering worries and fears and set a sizeable corner of my mind free to be creative.
with her poem JUDY COLLINS
Pauline is an Irish/Welsh mixture from Liverpool who has lived in the North East of UK since the 80s, where she brought up her family. She has worked in Poland and Sierra Leone where she developed a programme of creative writing at the university there. She is a founding editor of Mudfog Press, a community press in Teesside, and has several collections of poetry published, most recently 'Bint' (Red Squirrel Press): a long narrative poem 'From Here To Timbuktu' (Smokestack) and a collection of short stories 'Dancing With a Stranger' (Red Squirrel). She teaches creative writing for the Open University and is a semi professional cook. She is currently working on a novel.
was me, walking around London
barefoot, my growing up underdone.
My hair was a sheaf of corn, like hers,
my eyes kohl-rimmed. I gave myself airs.
No vesta curries or nylon sheets
no sliced bread without whole wheat.
I lived in a squat, lit by candle-light.
Her voice, gleaming and white
sang of rain and loneliness.
I cultivated melancholy and loss,
left behind the News of the World,
my mother’s perms
my conscience and its albatross.
My sails were unfurled.
WHAT THE ADJUDICATOR SAID
This was a poem I always knew would make the last few. It remakes the sonnet with unobtrusive skill. I loved the use of half-rhymes, the writer's wry humour as she (I assume) looks back at a youthful self branching out to the strains of the 'gleaming, white' voice of Judy Collins (a stroke of genius to transfer the epithets from the teeth to the voice) undeterred by 'my conscience and its albatross'.
by Robin Lloyd-Jones
This is the first in a series of three essays which explore the same sort of themes and wisdom that emerged when I interviewed twenty writers over seventy for the book Autumn Voices: the importance of letting go; recognising that later life can hold many joys and that, as one door closes, another opens.
As I get older I tend not to drive as far as I used to before beginning a hillwalk or launching my kayak. A long drive was worth it when a typical day in the mountains or on the water lasted seven or eight hours and occasionally went into double figures. Now, at age eighty-three, I am pleased with myself if I manage three or four hours. Since my rule has always been not to spend more time driving there and back than I spend on the actual activity, the distance I am prepared to travel is becoming shorter and shorter.
These days I visit the places I overlooked and drove past on my way to the bigger mountains, the more challenging waters and the remoter parts of Scotland. And very rewarding it has been. However, what I want to write about here are the places which are really near, places not more than two or three minutes from my back door, five minutes at the most. That is to say, I am going to write here about our garden and the sea shore beyond it.
A high stone wall marks the garden’s western boundary. Constructed of sandstone blocks held together by mortar, it was built in 1850, at the same time as the house. Since then it has received only a minimum of repair. In places the mortar has disintegrated, leaving gaps between the stones – little crevices and caves, Bug Hotel and des res for minibeasts of all sorts. With a torch in one hand and a large magnifying glass in the other an hour can easily slip away as I become lost in another world.
The wall is cracked, pitted and eroded by salt winds and the frosts of 168 winters. I like to close my eyes and run my finger-tips over its uneven, abrasive surface, exploring its variety of gritty textures. Its Braille-like messages are ‘eloquent to my hands.’(1) I encounter a miniature moss maze where circular grooves have been chiselled into the stone, for what purpose I do not know. The lichens feel rather like a thick coat of peeling paint, sometimes crusty and fibrous, sometimes powdery. Then my skin informs me I’m touching a lichen described as squamulose – one with small, leafy scales. Lichens cover about 6% of the Earth’s land surface. They are certainly covering more than that on our wall. Lichens are not plants, but an organism that emerges from a partnership between fungi and algae. The fungi protect and house the algae; and the algae, through photosynthesis, provide food for the fungi. These miniature eco-systems are among the oldest living things on our planet. Opening my eyes I am treated to a visual feast of whites, greys, and orangey-yellows. The lichens’ shapes are food for the imagination, too – archipelagos, mythical landscapes, coded messages from Mars, abstract paintings.
On the other side of the garden, in a corner between another wall and a boundary hedge, is a small pond. This was dug about twelve years ago by my wife and me for the benefit of the wild Mallard ducks which fly in most mornings. Here, in this protected space, overhung by the branches of a lime tree, the ducklings can safely swim, watched over by their mother. Anywhere else in the garden or on the shore crows and seagulls pick them off. Watching the ducks gives immense pleasure, so does watching the pond itself. Although we change the water in the pond regularly, it doesn’t take long in Summer and Autumn for it to develop a greenish hue and for leaves, flowers and petals to fall into it. They drift in constantly shifting patterns and juxtapositions of colour. I spend hours recording these amazingly beautiful natural happenings with my camera. As I write this I have in front of me several photographs. One shows a fragment of down, afloat in liquid jade, sailing over a submerged leafy shape in soft, dark emerald. Another shows a red and purple fuchsia flower lying on a golden autumnal leaf. Around it are more leaves, half rotted, their skeletons revealed against a background that slides from viridian into turquoise and aquamarine. Translucent bubbles overlay some of the leaves as does the duckweed, its small oval shapes in the palest tea-green like the brush strokes of a pointillist painter. This humble pond is a gallery of ephemeral aquatic art and I could fill a gallery with photographs by way of praise and celebration.
Our rhubarb patch is another source of delight and wonder. Of all the plants in our garden it has the largest leaves – Leaves upon which rain can loudly drum or gently patter. People buy CDs of rain falling on leaves to help them relax and sleep. Just as calming is the way, in a wind, rhubarb sways and quietly creeks. I like to lie flat and peer between thick red, pink and purple columns; to look up and see the underside of the leaves backlit, their ribs and veins clearly defined. I am no rhubarbarian. I don’t just eat it; I enjoy its superb architecture and structural engineering; and the way the sun shafts through holes in the canopy made by munching caterpillars, stippling stems and mottling moist shadows.
There is no wall where the end of the garden meets the shore. Instead there’s a short stone-faced drop that forms a rampart. The height of it varies according to the extent to which storm winds and high seas have piled against it shoals of pebbles. At spring tide (2) high water the sea is no more than three or four feet away from the end of the garden, bringing with it a huge variety of rubbish, driftwood and dead seaweed. Plastics I remove and put in bin-bags. The rest is grist to the tumbling waves. Although my beachcombing is mostly confined to this strip of shore, the ocean’s offerings are bountiful. Today I found two rings just big enough to fit on my little finger. One was a conical limpet shell, the top two thirds of which had been snapped off, leaving the frilly circular base with a hole in the middle. The other was the last quarter inch of the neck of a green beer bottle, its jagged edges long since smoothed away. I have become a seaglunter – a sea-glass hunter. Almost every week I add to my collection of curving, opalescent sea-gems in bottle greens and browns or almost clear, all slightly frosted and transformed. Once man-made objects, they have been claimed by nature. I include ceramics in my collection. The other day I found rounded pieces of blue-white willow pattern china lying among a heap of exactly matching empty mussel shells.
When the tide is far out at spring low tide a kelp jungle is exposed. This particular species of kelp is oarweed. Without the sea to support its weight, it lies in a tangled mass. When submerged, however, it becomes a swaying upright forest, designed to move with the waves as they crash onto the shore. Its flexibility allows it to survive in situations when more rigid plants would snap or be torn from the rock(3). The Scottish Natural Heritage publication Kelp Forests says:
‘The oarweed forest marks the junction between land and sea. It is probably one of the most natural environments that can be explored by a land dweller, in that, around most of Scotland, it is only rarely affected by human activity.’
Early one morning, at low-tide and when the sun was newly risen and shining horizontally through this colony of kelp, I walked to the rocky outer margin of the inter-tidal zone. The kelp’s thick wet gelatinous blades gleamed and glimmered in shades of brown ranging from amber to umber. On the underside of the blades, or among the stems, were sea slugs, squirts, sponges, small crabs, tiny five-armed starfish, sea anemones and a host of other miniature marine life that I could not name. Cautiously I manoeuvred across the slippery surface. Writhing shapes shone like luculent, pellucid gold – a magical kingdom existing for less than an hour before the sun rose higher and the turning tide hid it again..
Within a short walk from where I live many more adventures for the eye and mind await. There is always more to learn, more surprises, joy and wonder to encounter, fresh ways to grow. I have touched upon only a few. I have said nothing of the flowers, trees and bushes, the birds, bees and butterflies, the sunsets and cloudscapes; the sculpted driftwood, the seashells, the countless ways light falls upon, passes through or is reflected by an immense variety of surfaces. Step outside and almost immediately all five senses are fully engaged. Take any square meter of what lies immediately beyond my backdoor and a team of artists, botanists, biologists, micro-scientists and philosophers could write an entire volume on that alone. In experiencing the close and the small there is as much to be discovered as journeying to the far corners of the Earth. I do not need to travel great distances in order to reach new realms of the imagination, attain new heights of understanding and depths of feeling.
- From Helen Keller’s poem ‘The Song of the Stone Wall’ (1910).
- Spring tides occur twice a month just after a full moon or a new moon. At spring tides the tidal range is at its greatest, advancing up the beach to its highest point and receding down the beach to its lowest point. The name ‘spring tide’ comes from the notion of the tide ‘springing forth’, it has nothing to do with the season of the same name..
- Seaweeds do not have roots (which draw nutrients from the soil). They have holdfasts, which act as anchors.