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Advantages of Age and the taboo-busting power of intentional living

Advantages of Age is a social enterprise that's challenging the accepted narratives about ageing

Illustration: Jake Hawkins

Seven years ago, I was in a hot tub with a group of friends who were sick of being depicted as worn out, unsexy and uninteresting. One of them, Suzanne Noble, a serial entrepreneur and jazz singer, and I, a journalist and poet, decided to create Advantages of Age – a social enterprise which challenges the accepted narratives around ageing.

Since then, Advantages of Age has become a website, a very lively FB group, has made films about death and dying as well as staging dance performances with a group of over-60s and other events from poetry evenings to awards ceremonies celebrating people and organisations doing crucial pro-ageing work.

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Early on, we did an interview from the hot tub in Suzanne’s garden for The Sunday Times magazine Style and they called us “the punks of getting older”. We love that description – I actually worked at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art in 1976 when The Clash played – because it actually captures our non-conformist attitudes to ageing.

I curate the FB group Advantages of Age – Baby Boomers and Beyond – as well as commissioning articles for the website, often supporting new writers in the group. The idea is to reflect the wild terrain that we live in as active, rebellious oldsters. And give voice to the plethora of activities we’re involved in, from rock climbing (my partner still climbs and abseils at 80) to tennis with lots of dancing, van living and festival going. And, of course, these stories include both sex and death because both are nearby and both are still taboos. 

Older people being sexy is still slightly offbeat and unpalatable – although I’m so glad the 70-something actors, Lindsay Duncan and Clarke Peters put sexiness on the screens in TrueLove, the recent Channel 4 drama about assisted dying, one of our campaigns, by the way – and death is still so often cossetted away far from the real world. 

There’s still an old age narrative that threads through fiction and drama which emanates frailty. Too many walking sticks and stooped backs. There are still too many tabloid stories with granny or grandpa in the headlines when these are older people performing fantastic feats and yet they are reduced to a stereotypic cliche based around reproduction. Please release us. 

Hot Tub Painting by Caroline Cadenza

I have edited an anthology of inspirational stories called Sex, Death and Other Inspiring Stories. Writers range from Older Women Rock founder, artist and poet Leah Thorn – who worked with the Profanity Embroidery Group to put bold words about older vulvas on a vintage negligee – to Kate Dyer and Tym, the founders of the Coffin Club who are creating a funeral revolution, to writer Ivan Pope who discovered he had ADHD at 57, or Becca Leathlean, who writes about living life richly alone as a 50-something woman. It’s vital in our ageist society to reflect different getting-older stories so that people feel they have a choice as they age.

The pieces in Sex, Death and Other Inspiring Stories tell the other stories. However, the book is not relentless positivity. There are articles about challenging health conditions – from having MS to vasculitis to chronic pain – which chronicle the ways different contributors have embraced or deal with their illnesses. We don’t want to pretend that we live in some kind of idealised ever-fit bubble. We know people will get ill and die. But we want members to feel they can share information and their vulnerabilities. As well as laugh.

Nikki Kenward – a craniosacral therapist as well as a theatre director specialising in circus and physical theatre – has written a brilliantly informative piece about gut health for us. “The fundamental way to help yourself is do your emotional work, through craniosacral therapy, talking therapy or any therapeutic practice that works for you,” she suggests.

“Emotional stress is the number one thing that has a negative impact on our microbiome. This includes stress from the past as well as the present.” And as Nikki says, she isn’t completely free of challenge here, she’s still travelling.

Advantages of Age has helped me with getting older – I am almost 71 – because it is an irreverent, well-
informed, discursive and warm tribe/community. I don’t feel alone. According to the Centre for Ageing Better there are 11 million people aged 65 and over; in 10 years’ time it will have increased to 13 million, 22% of the population.

I hope Sex, Death and Other Inspiring Stories spreads the word more widely to the getting-older community,  so that they can feel less burdened by the idea of ageing and more inspired by the freedom that it can entail.

Subscribe to the Advantages of Age Substack here.

Sex, Death and Other Inspiring Stories, edited by Rose Rouse, is out now (Riverdale Avenue, £20).

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