101: per ardua ad astra – through hardship to the stars

101: per ardua ad astra – through hardship to the stars

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

None. I went to a good girls’ school where it was acceptable to be clever. Most girls went on to something like secretarial work or nursing unless they were considered really clever and went to university and usually ended up as teachers. I had a few ideas of what I wanted and didn’t want from work and in the end I followed an idea my sister gave me.

What did you want to be when you left education?

I knew I didn’t want an office job. I always liked science at school and wanted to do something with that and I also wanted to help people. My sister suggested podiatry to me and that is what I ended up doing.

Did your mother work?

Yes. When she was about 12, her father died and her mother who had trained as a court dressmaker returned to her profession. My mother helped out in the workroom and became an accomplished dressmaker herself. Then, when I was about 7, my father bought a cycle shop and she used to help out in it.

Love & Relationships:

Do you think getting married is important?

Yes I do. At its best it provides companionship and mutual help and security. Having family around you in old age is a definite bonus. The people I’ve known who haven’t had that are often quite lonely.

What did you dream your future partner would be like when you were a little girl?

I was mainly interested in books and learning when I was young. But I do remember one day when I was at school suddenly thinking to myself, I wonder who I’ll marry? I remember thinking that whoever he was, he wasn’t in England at the time but was living abroad. In fact, when I did marry that turned out to have been true.

Is your relationship with your partner the same as your parents’ relationship?

I suspect my relationship was far happier than my parents. My mother was a rather unhappy person which made her difficult to live with, but my father was always very patient with her and they stuck together. I had two partners in my life. My first husband was a fairly fiery character but a really interesting and unusual person so I could never get bored. After he died in his late 50s, I had a long term relationship with another lovely man. We would have married except that I would have lost my pension if I remarried and that would have made it very hard to make ends meet. But we had a strong relationship and got on really well. I can’t remember us ever quarrelling. We gave each other space but also had lots of fun together.

Family:

How like your mother are you?

I think I am very different from her. I am quite peacable and quiet and love my own company. She was an unhappy person and always took offence at the least thing so it was hard to feel relaxed around her.

What are your hopes for any daughters or young women you know?

I really just wanted my daughter to have enough to live on and have a happy life.

Do you bring your son up the same way as your daughter? Do you think boys and girls should be brought up differently?

My son was bought up differently, but that was the norm at the time. He was given a lot more independence and sent off on unaccompanied adventure trips with friends and taught things like self-preservation. My daughter by contrast was probably over-protected and treated as a bit of a delicate flower. But she was also quite shy and studious, whereas my son was outgoing, sporty and fun-loving and that also influenced the difference in their upbringing. Educationally, they were given the same opportunities and encouragement – if anything as it turned out, my daughter ended up with a much better education than my son.

If you don’t have children, what have you been able to do that having children would have prevented you doing? What has your focus been?

Certainly in the early days, we had a lot of help at home, so having the children did not make a big difference to that. I suppose I would have done similar things to what I did, but without the children. As my husband worked abroad a lot, I travelled with him and we lived quite a lot of the time in foreign countries. In those days, accompanying wives often had a lot of social responsibilities to support their husband’s work and that’s what I did. It was a really interesting life. Later on when we settled back home, I helped him in his business. I kept up a small amount of podiatry as well.

Expectations and Dreams:

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Being a young adult in WW2, there were some quite frightening moments. But we tended to take them in our stride. I remember having to go to air-raid shelters at night and taking my bag so I could leave for work straight from the shelter the next morning at the usual time as if nothing had happened. There was a time when we were meant to be evacuated to the shelters but my mother was too ill to be moved so we just stayed in the house and hoped for the best. Then when she died in the middle of the war, I had to look after the sale of the house and clear her effects although I was only about 25-26 at the time. In retrospect that was probably quite a brave thing to do, but at the time I just got on with it  because it had to be done.

What drives you?

I don’t know that I am particularly driven. But I like to do things that support other people.

What are your values?

Caring for others and being kind and supportive.

Age:

How old are you? 

101

What has been your favourite age to be and why?

There have been all sorts of times of my life that have been good. I often think that the war years were some of the happiest times because despite the danger, people worked together and looked out for one another and we lived every moment to the full because life was precious. Then the first ten years after I married were exciting because we were living in quite exotic parts of the world, meeting interesting people and doing interesting things. I’ve always loved travelling and from my early twenties on I have visited all sorts of interesting places. I still try to get away occasionally even now, at age 101.

Do you think it’s better to be young now than when you were young? (Or better now than when your parents were young?)

I was very fortunate when I was young. We had a very easy life in many ways and the world seemed a kinder, gentler place. But I think the young today have a lot more opportunities than we did.

Obstacles:

What are the pros and cons of being a woman?

I was perfectly happy with my lot and didn’t really have any problems with womanhood.

What have been the biggest challenges in your life?

Probably the biggest responsibility I had was as a plotter during the war, covering the area of greater London and having to plot the course of enemy aircraft. The work was very intense at times and we had to be very quick and accurate. There were other challenges too, like adjusting after the death of my mother who died in the war and having to deal with her estate as a 26-year old. Then after my first husband died – that was a big adjustment, learning to live on my own again.

Self-image – Body or Looks:

Why do you dress the way that you do?

Coming from a family of dressmakers, I’ve always been aware of clothes and what they look like. So both with my background and my later life as a military and diplomatic wife, looking smart came very naturally and that’s never really left me. I’ve always dressed in a way that makes me feel confident and attractive.

What would be your musical soundtrack?

I like light classical music. My husband and I loved ballroom dancing, so I would also add dance music of the 40s and 50s.

Do you have a life’s motto?

The RAF motto is per ardua ad astra – through hardship to the stars. We’ve always used that in our family to encourage one another in difficult times. And when things were difficult or uncertain, we’d tell each other “it’ll all come right in the end” and usually it did.

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20’s: There is beauty to be found in every age.

20’s: There is beauty to be found in every age.

Work:

 What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

My parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I don’t remember much else. I remember being in the back of a taxi on the way to an audition for a drama school and the taxi driver asked me what I was auditioning for. When I explained that I wanted to be an actor he spun around in his seat, looked me up and down and said ‘yes you’re pretty enough.’ The best piece of advice I got was from my voice teacher on the day I left drama school. She told me not to get lost in the quest for achievement but to  remember to ‘enjoy the journey’.

What did you want to be when you left education?

An actor.

Did your mother work?

Yes. She never stopped! She ran her own Drama school. She was always organising huge shows in the local theatre. Our house was full of costumes and scripts. I started working in her drama school as a dance teacher when I was thirteen.

Love & Relationships:

Do you think getting married is important?

To me it is. It wasn’t always. But two years in to my relationship with my fiancé it became important to me. I realised I wanted to make that commitment to him and vice-Versa. I want to celebrate the commitment we are making to each other. I place importance in the act of making that promise publicly in front of the people we love and care about. But I am not going to change my name. And the women will also make speeches at our wedding.

What did you dream your future partner would be like when you were a little girl?

Oh I don’t know Aladdin or something! Or the handsome animated fox version of Robin Hood. Or maybe my action man doll: ripped with interesting scars and immobile plastic hair. I didn’t think about it at all. I was too busy prancing around being a Pegasus.

Is your relationship with your partner the same as your parents’ relationship?

Not at all. My parents are divorced. I was always aware my parents made each other unhappy. I didn’t think it was really possible to be in a loving relationship. I always assumed I’d have a successful career instead. Love was a luxury or an afterthought. The fact I am in a great relationship is a huge and welcome surprise.

Family:

How like your mother are you?

Very. People used to mistake us for each other on the phone all the time. Same sense of humour. Same tenacious spirit. Same capacity for worrying.

What are your hopes for any daughters or young women you know?

My hopes for my daughter, if I have one in the future, are that she will grow up truly believing she can do anything. I would love for her to have the ability to stand up for herself if someone questions her ability to do something because she is female. One of my biggest frustrations as a woman is not feeling able to defend myself whenever a man has said something sexist or sexually inappropriate to me. I’ve been afraid of sounding like a ‘bitch’, or in some cases it’s been a boss so I felt unable to challenge him. My hope is that she will have the ability and confidence to stand up for herself in similar situations, and that these situations will be a lot rarer.

Do you bring your son up the same way as your daughter? Do you think boys and girls should be brought up differently?

I don’t have children but if I did I would want them to feel equal and equally nurtured. I think one of the most harmful things we can tell boys is ‘don’t  cry’ as it potentially stops them from being able to honestly express their feelings. I’ve seen young boys made to channel their hurt and sadness into anger and aggression. Surely this will only lead to problems down the line. I also think we should stop telling confident, articulate young girls they are bossy. Instead I will tell my daughter she is a good leader. I would teach my daughter to be careful as she gets older and to avoid potentially unsafe situations. I would also teach my son the importance of respect for women. But if there’s something I’d really like my kids to learn; it’s respect for everyone.

If you don’t have children, what have you been able to do that having children would have prevented you doing? What has your focus been?

As I don’t have children my focus is on my career. It means I can travel for acting, go on tour, live in another country for awhile. This would be a lot more difficult if I had kids because I would want to be with them.

Expectations and Dreams:

Who are your heroines and why?

My Mum. She raised me pretty much singlehandedly while running a successful business. She is always there for me if I’m going through a hard time. She has taught me to be strong and compassionate in equal measures.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Be an actor! There are no certainties in the career I’ve chosen but I know nothing else would make me happy. I also moved from Dublin to Oxford to be with my partner. He was the only person I knew here but I knew it would be worth it and it is. I think the bravest things I’ve done have always been the pursuit of adventure and happiness in the face of uncertainty.

What drives you?

Art. Theatre. Being creative and telling stories. My way of expressing myself and processing difficult situations has always been through creativity. I write and paint and act and dance my way through life.

What are your values?

Be respectful of yourself and others.

What is your biggest achievement?

I’d have to say my relationship. I’m in a healthy, loving relationship. It takes constant work but it feels easy. I feel very lucky.

Age:

How old are you?

28

What has been your favourite age to be and why?

16. Everything was stretching out ahead of me. I felt powerful and beautiful. It may have been when I believed in myself most. Especially as an actor.

Do you think it’s better to be young now than when you were young? (Or better now than when your parents were young?)

As a woman yes. When my parents were young there was still stigma about pre-marital sex, pregnancy out of marriage, the pay gap was wider. There was more of an expectation that you would give up your career once you had a family. It was harder not to be heterosexual. I can say I’m a bisexual woman living in sin with her fiancé without anyone batting an eyelid. That would have been harder in the eighties.

Obstacles:

What are the pros and cons of being a woman?

PROS: I hate to say that this is something I had to spend a few minutes thinking about. The cons came much easier to me. I think in my professional field it’s a good time to be a woman. Women’s voices are being heard at the moment in comedy, in new writing, in film, on TV.

Self expression: I love the range of options open to me in how I dress. I love wearing makeup and I love fashion. It feels like ‘who will I dress up as today.’

I’m looking forward to becoming a mother. My body can carry life inside it! Amazing!

Freedom of emotional expression. I think it must be hard for men sometimes. They are under such pressure not to appear weak.

CONS: I have been groped more times then I can count. I have been called ‘a dirty bitch’ by my boss. I’ve had men ask me whether I have played any ‘raunchy roles’ on TV. I’ve been sent porn by a co-worker. I’ve been sent sexual threats on Facebook for not responding to a message from a man I didn’t know. I used to work as a nude life model and I got more than one request for sexual services from male artists. I’ve had my opinion discounted then seconds later a man has offered the same suggestion and it has been validated. I’ve been called sweetie darling and honey when the men around me have been called by their name. I’ve had my appearance rated by men when I didn’t ask for it. And I have been told to smile by random men many, many, many times. Abortion is still not legal in my birth country and women who travel to the UK for abortions are still stigmatised. I could go on and on and on.

What have been the biggest challenges in your life?

Suffering from anxiety and depression. I have a very mean inner critic. Sometimes I have a very low feeling of self worth and that has stopped me putting myself forward for big opportunities. Battling that inner critic is a full time job.

Self-image – Body or Looks:

Why do you dress the way that you do?

Because I wish to appear effortlessly stylish (even though it took effort!). I like to feel powerful in the clothes I’m wearing. In my early twenties I was all about the cabaret / burlesque look. I wanted to be sexy. I wanted to look like a femme fatale. I wore red lipstick and corsets and had red hair. Now I’m more interested in feeling powerful so I wear shirts, jeans and boots. I also feel it’s worth mentioning I have seven wide brimmed hats in different colours. When I wear them (not all at once) I like to pretend I am a private detective. I think it’s the actor in me. Clothes feel like costumes, they open up a range of character options to me. Maybe it’s a bit of mask to hide behind but it makes me feel braver.

What would be your musical soundtrack?

Emmm… Sweeney Todd? Cabaret? Chicago? I like the darker musicals. I think it would be a musical that seems fun and sweet on the surface but has a layer of darkness and naughtiness underneath.

Do you have a life’s motto?

‘Don’t say I can’t. Say how can I?’

Anything else you’d like to add?

I have spent the last few years worrying a lot about getting older and not having achieved enough. I have just begun to let go of that worry and embrace getting older. There is beauty to be found in every age.

 

 

 

40’s: Try to find a way to balance career and family as it suit you. If you want children, do not delay that too much because of your career.

40’s: Try to find a way to balance career and family as it suit you. If you want children, do not delay that too much because of your career.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

I did not think I required any advice as I knew for a long time what I wanted to become – a medical doctor. The unexpected shock came though when I started to fail in completing my studies at the high school and even worse I as did not pass the exams to start studying my chosen profession. At that point my mother panicked and suggested I apply to another university course, which I did, as I had no plan B of my own. That application was successful.

What did you want to be when you left education?

It took me ten years to complete my first MA. I lived in a country where university fees do not exist thus prolonged studies, at least in my days were rather common. I have never pursed working in the field this degree qualifies me to work. Nevertheless, those years spent in education have a profound impact how I have practiced as an artist thereafter. For the first couple of years I was a full-time student but gradually my work in the theatre and dance started to take over and the university studies became of a secondary importance. Once finished I was happy I could just concentrate on my career in the performance arts. In my thirties I decided to move to UK and study again. I managed to keep myself a full-time student for the next six years, working only a little bit. It was a revelation when I was diagnosed with dyslexia . Now I finally understood why I had failed in my medical school exams and also why it had been rather hard work to complete my first MA. The visual art degrees where much easier for me to complete. When I graduated I would have loved to keep on working as a visual artist but financially that was not a way forward.

Did your mother work?

She did. She had two qualifications and changed her career from teaching to medicine and then back to teaching.

Love & Relationships:

Do you think getting married is important?

I never thought it would be and for a long while I forgot to pursue that aspect in my life all together. I probably put that attitude down to women studies I did as part of my first degree and being a feminist in the 1990’s. Or I just did not meet the right man to marry and have a family with. I am proud that I have been self-sufficient for the 30 odd years that I have worked as a freelance artist. It’s been tough but I’ve managed. On the other hand, I have had enough of it. If getting married with emotional and financial security was an option I would immediately change for that.

What did you dream your future partner would be like when you were a little girl?

The only thing I ever dreamed of was to marry a foreigner. I grew up in a very monocultural environment. I cannot recall thinking of his profession or interests but the idea of him being a foreigner was appealing to me.

Is your relationship with your partner the same as your parents’ relationship?

My parents have been married for 50 years. Happily? I have my doubts. Me and my partner both have failed in relationships before we found each other. I hope we have learned from our mistakes and could make this relationship work in the best possible way.

Family:

How like your mother are you?

I do not think I am like my mother. I hope the only common thing is that we both have studied two different vocations. I think my mom would have liked to be an artist but she never had the guts or possibility to pursue that until she retired.

What are your hopes for any daughters or young women you know?

Try to find a way to balance career and family as it suit you. If you want children, do not delay that too much because of your career.

Do you bring your son up the same way as your daughter? Do you think boys and girls should be brought up differently?

I do my best to provide my son and daughter the same options. They have to choose what they want. It has been so far somewhat easy as I got twins. They are living through the same family circumstances emotionally and financially.

Expectations and Dreams:

Who are your heroines and why?

I do not think I have ever thought anyone as my hero.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

I had my children on my own. I was a single mum by choice in a foreign country without any family or partner to support me. Having experienced infertility problems for several years I was running out of time. In the end my last option was to try to conceive with donated sperm. A miracle happened. Or two if you like as I had healthy twins in my early 40’s. Having children is also my biggest achievement. Combining motherhood and work life as a freelance artist is difficult, though I have managed to find a way around it. My creative work life used to drive me forward but I am happy to give up it as it was to be able to experience life with my children.

Age:

How old are you?

49 turning 50 in a few weeks time

What has been your favourite age to be and why?

In retrospect my 20’s was a wonderful time as I still believed that If you work hard you can achieve what you want. I also believed that being a woman is not a hindrance. I do not believe neither anymore. Working hard is important but there is no guarantee your efforts and input will be appreciated and you will get where you want. Being a woman and a mother makes it even harder.

Do you think it’s better to be young now than when you were young? (Or better now than when your parents were young?)

My childhood in the 1970’s and 80’s was safe and sound. Enough cultural opportunities, it was safe to travel and interact with people. Much better circumstances than the generation of my parents had. They were growing up in the aftermath of the World War II. I do not see the future in a very bright light. I think the current political atmosphere is getting really scary and seems like we are moving backwards rather than forwards.

Obstacles:

What have been the biggest challenges in your life?

Making a living as freelance artist and eventually having children and trying to make that combination function in real life.

Self-image – Body or Looks:

Why do you dress the way that you do?

I do not shop a lot. To be honest I hate shopping as I rarely find what I like in the price category I can afford. I take good care of my clothes and use second hand ones a lot, also clothes handed down from my friends. At the moment I am considering to start sewing dresses for myself to be able to have something I want. I used to sew many of my performance clothes. Nevertheless, one day I would like to walk into a shop and just buy without having to consult the price tag first.

What would be your musical soundtrack?

Shostakovich; 4 Jazz Suite No.2

Do you have a life’s motto?

Make a change in your life when required. Do not moan, wait and hope that things will be done for you.

 

 

50s: I think it will be women who change the world and make it beautiful again.

50s: I think it will be women who change the world and make it beautiful again.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman? 

I didn’t really have any career advice as a young woman, I was too busy skiving, smoking and shoplifting with my friends in town. I sat very few exams but got a job in the local KFC because my friend worked there, I didn’t last long when I caught the manager stealing chicken, she sacked me, and it was a dumb job anyhow, we would get leeched at by drunk men.

What did you want to be when you left education?

I wanted to be an artist, it was one of the few lesson I turned up to, I even turned up to the art lunch club, I would make a special effort to go to school on those days. I drew all the time, in my math’s books and English books and on the school toilet walls, the little two tone men from the

Specials, they locked the toilets up in the end at lunch time but that didn’t matter, we were skiving in them at lesson time..

Did your mother work?

My mum had various jobs mainly housekeeping jobs, she was a single parent, I think life was hard for her.

Love & Relationships:

Do you think getting married is important?

I don’t think marriage is necessarily a good thing or important, it’s only humans that get married, something we made up. 3 couple I know who had been together for years, had children and got married later in the relationship: 2 were divorced in the year and I worry about the third. I don’t know if it’s that official commitment that changes the relationship or your relationship becoming accountable to the law maybe the financial debt that also comes with a wedding. 2 of the weddings were in the region of about £18000. Maybe it’s just western marriages that do this?

What did you dream your future partner would be like when you were a little girl?

I think probably Elvis or Donny Osmond, I was a real Tom boy but I had a boyfriend, we used to play football all the time and hold hands in the street, I thought that was true romance. He was one of the cool kids at school because he was from London and the hardest kid on the estate (for his age range). I had to fight him and his sister when we first moved there, at least once a week, the street was a cul-de-sac and there was only one way out but he liked my football skills and the fact that I could climb a tree and would fight if I had to. The estate was full of large families from the London overspill and very territorial, you soon learned. We actually stayed together for a couple of years, he was really handsome and had twinkly blue eyes like Paul Newman. Probably someone like my childhood sweet-heart, he could accept me for who I was, didn’t expect anything too feminine and enjoyed my boyish ways with me. I still have the bracelet he bought me in my jewelry box, we must have been about 9 or 10 years old.

Is your relationship with your partner the same as your parents’ relationship?

I have chosen not to have a partner, all my relationships have been crap and I have little respect for men but I don’t hate them, they are just time consuming and generally selfish, however I do have lots of really close male friends, I like their company. I have found groups of women difficult but I am getting better at this but men as partners can’t be trusted, it seem such a big risk.

So I suppose my relationships is the same as my mum’s because she stayed single too, thinking about it both my Grandmothers were single from around their 30s, and my sister is also single. We are quite a bunch of independent women, both my grandparents lost their husbands early in life, one did remarry. My father has a long term partner

Family:

How like your mother are you?

I am told I look like my dad, not too much like my mother, but I am like her in many ways: I have got my love of nature, the countryside and interest in folklore from my mother, we were bought up to believe in Faeries as we were originally from the countryside, I can still remember the magic of being in the woods. We missed the countryside when we had to move but the council had been considerate enough to give us a house that backed onto fields.

I also have her slightly twisted sense of humour, we cry with laughter sometimes, I have her matter of factness, I don’t’ suffer fools lightly and have little tolerance for bullshit, I struggle with small talk. I  like to be outside and I like  solitude, we like the same programmes, history and I think I get my swearing from her, and apparently the women on her side of the family don t go grey, so here’s to hoping!

What are your hopes for any daughters or young women you know?

I have an 11 year old daughter, I had her later in life, so she tends to be with a lot of adults, her brothers are10 and 16 years older than her. I worry about what I have bought her into, the world seems to of gone mad, my Nan told me this would happen, she told me not to have children because the world would be a bad place. But I think I may have bred Boudica, My girl is like me but I have been able to give her more opportunity than I had as a child. I have moved from the estate and  I have taken her out of school as I saw how the pressure was affecting her, academically and socially, she is a tomboy and was struggling with the Barbie culture. This is the best thing that I did as it has steered her away from sheep mentality and towards independent thinking. She has real determination and a socially critical mind, I have always been a very political person and this has influenced my daughter, I hope she will be a strong independent bossy woman and will lead the revolution.

Do you bring your son up the same way as your daughter? 

I had a dream once that my experience of having children would be just like the, “pampers”advert. It wasn’t. I have 2 sons who are 28 and 21, when they were younger my circumstances were different and so are all my children. I had to battle on behalf of my sons against outside influences. I was poor when the boys were younger and still on the estate, it was easy for them to become involved in criminal activities and the associated risks, boys have to deal with such bravado and masculine expectations, they were harder to protect.

Do you think boys and girls should be brought up differently?

I think you bring a child up as a child and every child is different as is every year. All my children have been different and suffered their own issues, I have been very poor and this has also influenced the opportunities available for my children, as a parent all I can do is support them to make the right decisions in life, I think circumstances dictate more than gender as to how a child is bought up, but the opportunities and risks are different through cultural and peer pressure, this fucks children up.

Expectations and Dreams:

Who are your heroines and why?

My Nan is my Heroine, she looked after me when I was in my naughty phase and was always there for me, she would swear at me in Welsh so I didn’t know what she had said. She would get out the photos and always get me to draw pictures for her, she got me to draw her a picture of my Grandad. He was showing a little boy how to box, there were loads of kids stood round watching them, they were the boys from the children’s home she ran in the war, he had got his satchel on and was laughing. She use to tell me about the photos and Wales, she lost her son in a car accident on his way back from his interview at Art School, I was named after his fiancé. Nan’s summerhouse was full of my uncle’s paintings I used to tidy it up and hang the pictures like in an art gallery and look after her garden, she knew what I really liked to do.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Walking out of my job, I hated my job. I had the best job in the world before that, I was a youth worker on the estate I came from, I ended up loving that place and still do, we had our service cut and could take redundancy or have a job in the new service. I had a mortgage and 3 children, I had no choice but to take the stinking job. I think I was one of the most awkward employees they had, I had a history of going on strike and arguing with management and was already a marked woman by my employees, I don’t think they would ever give me a job again. I handed my notice in one evening with no job to go to and a lot of responsibilities. It was the best thing I had done in a long time, I felt like I had taken real control of my life and things have just got better ever since, I feel more confident in taking risks, it’s not always good to take the safe option, that will grind you down, there is no adventure or control in one’s life when you do that.

What drives you?

My car, occasionally a bus. My community drives me, we have lost many young men in our community through drugs, violence and mental health issues, and we have had to battle for our sons to get help. These are the next generation from the estate, I have been to their funerals, I cried with their friends, it breaks my heart. There is a shared connection with these people, especially the women, we don’t really know each other but we have so much in common that we can say we love each other, these are the people that I live for and love. They know the oppression of being a poor woman and often in these cases a single parent, there is a real bond that is built among the oppression of women, it is in our hearts, we know, you can see it in their faces if you know what you are looking for, that’s what drives me.

What are your values?

I guess the same as most people, family, friends all the lovely things in life, but I’m not materialistic, I have learnt over time to be careful with my resources and in return I have learnt to be resourceful. I would rather do things than have things which is possibly why i value my time more than anything materialistic.

Life has been a struggle and it wasn’t until now that I have been able to think about what I want to do, the struggle scrambles your brain and makes life pass quickly, it’s a battle and if you don’t escape ,suddenly your time is up.. Time is what I value now and the freedom that it brings and a sense of hope , without hope you have nothing.

What is your biggest achievement?

Getting an education. Life had been one long sentence and now I have put a full stop at the end, I was fortunate to walk into my job, as a volunteer Youth Worker and soon became employed, after 10 years in the job I was forced to get the qualification. I had resisted this offer, education had left a bad taste in my mouth.

It actually took me 8 years to complete my degree, due to life throwing shit in my direction but I did complete it. It was an amazing journey, I still don’t know what a verb or adjective is but I did realise that my issues with authority and institutions as a young person in the 80’s and even up until today were justified. When you go through life being told you are wrong about oppression and the institutions are right:To be told you are right and they are wrong is a massive shock, that was a big realization for me, up until this point in life I thought it was my fault life was shit. Now I have some control, education is a massive eye opener, it actually made my brain hurt, I love writing now and researching the world instead of fighting it.

Age:

How old are you?

50

What has been your favorite age to be and why?

I would be the age I am now, I look back on myself and see someone who is blinkered and has been swallowed up. I feel like I am having a second chance at life with a more stable footing and I am looking forward to the spring and being outside. I think because of my age somehow the days and world seems brighter.

Do you think it’s better to be young now than when you were young? (Or better now than when your parents were young?)

The world is not a good place now for young people, we know the bite of Thatcherism as young people in the 80’s but today it has moved to another level. Technology has bought new predators to young people and more danger. I still work with young people and technology has switched their brains off, and allows them to unintentionally exploit themselves, which is terrifying.

Obstacles:

What are the pros and cons of being a woman?

Not many pros to being a woman these days, patriarchy is back big time but I hope one day it will change I think women have more of a voice but what bothers me is women in power, like Thatcher and May they don’t bring in a woman’s perspective, generally a little more compassionate, they just try and act like a man. Do you know I am really struggling to think of a pro for women today, that’s a bit worrying? Actually I think it will be women who change the world and make it beautiful again.

What have been the biggest challenges in your life?

Getting out of the poverty trap, with poverty comes the cycle of crime, which inevitably brings disapir. My ex ended up as a dealer and a thief, I didn’t want this for my children, we use to get raided by the police, one time a guy knocked on my door and said the ex-owed £ 6,000 to some dealers from London and they were going to come to my house, if I didn’t get the money. I packed the kids up and left home for a while until they were paid. My sons inevitably became involved in this lifestyle and that was my biggest challenge to stop them, I think I did it, you have to ride these things through, and we lose so many of the young men in this town to drug related issues.

Self-image – Body or Looks:

Why do you dress the way that you do?

I dress down I suppose, I have a bad habit in the winter of wearing my pyjamas under my clothes and being told by various people to brush my hair. I never use to be like this but life gets in the way. When I was younger I did attract male attention quite a lot which I would find very uncomfortable. I have never really dressed up or wore makeup until recently, I have to make an effort now, makes me feel better, and can’t remember the last time I wore a skirt. I remember watching Dixon of Doc Green with my Nan and the female police officer was climbing over a fence with great difficulty, I think the men had given chase by the time she had adjusted herself, she was in a skirt and tights, it was at that moment I thought to myself, skirts are a really stupid idea.

What would be your musical soundtrack?

Nightmare Before Christmas.

Do you have a life’s motto?

Believe nothing and question everything and “why?” you can always win an argument and irritate people with that word, they usually give up if you say it enough.

60’s: Just living is an achievement.

60’s: Just living is an achievement.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

None. I just followed my heart. I wanted to act so I went to drama school….

What did you want to be when you left education?

An actor

Did your mother work?

Eventaully – as a teaching assistant then as a teacher and then as a head mistress

Love & Relationships:

Do you think getting married is important?

I can’t bear the thought!

What did you dream your future partner would be like when you were a little girl?

Someone out of Dr Who.

Is your relationship with your partner the same as your parents’ relationship?

Yes. Separated!

Family:

How like your mother are you?

Horribly – and also very unlike.

What are your hopes for any daughters or young women you know?

Fulfillment, adventure, curiosity, discovery, love and respect, world peace…

Do you bring your son up the same way as your daughter? Do you think boys and girls should be brought up differently?

I think each child should be brought up according to its needs – and gender assignment is not part of that picture for me

If you don’t have children, what have you been able to do that having children would have prevented you doing? What has your focus been?

Have a career. It’s why I chose not to have children. I wanted to act. I wanted to have adventures. I wanted to be able to travel and go off when I felt like it.

Expectations and Dreams:

Who are your heroines and why?

Ann Frank, for her optimism and positivity; Helen Bamber, for her humanity and dedication; Shami Chakrabati for her commitment to human rights; Gareth Pierce, ditto; Jayaben Desai for her courage and absolute commitment to workers’ rights; Anwar Ditta for never giving up in her fight to have her children live over here with her…

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Cycling up Mont Ventoux – on second thoughts, freewheeling down it. That was terrifying.

What drives you?

People, curiosity, wanting to known the world a bit better.

What are your values?

I’m a Humanist. My moral compass is set in the direction of the betterment of humanity.

What is your biggest achievement?

Today it’s been filling in a Home Office vetting form. Other days it’s finishing a poem or digging the garden and laying a patio on my own. Just living is an achievement.

Age:

How old are you?

62 and 11½ months.

What has been your favourite age to be and why?

I loved being 14. I was so aware of the world and it really felt as though I could challenge anything and make things happen. But every age is good so far. I don’t much like the idea of becoming frail though.

Do you think it’s better to be young now than when you were young? (Or better now than when your parents were young?)

I think each era has its own drawbacks and its own positives. You can’t play out these days. When I was a kid, you used to be able to have the run of outdoors. Girls get a better deal now – but then that’s not always the case. Online trolling and terrible pressure to fit in with an image that’s not real or useful.

Obstacles:

What are the pros and cons of being a woman?

Having a clitoris is fun! Being the subject of sexism is not.

What have been the biggest challenges in your life?

Coming out as a lesbian was interesting.

Self-image – Body or Looks:

Why do you dress the way that you do?

Because I feel totally comfortable that way.

What would be your musical soundtrack?

The Rail Bank of Bamako – “Foliba” – and Ella Fitzgerald singing “How High the Moon” live.

Do you have a life’s motto?

Carpe Diem.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Life’s good.

30s: I don’t have a daughter but if I had one I’d hope for a safer world for her.

30s: I don’t have a daughter but if I had one I’d hope for a safer world for her.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

I’d say I received three bits of career advice when I was young. Firstly we had a computer programme at school where you answered a series of questions and it suggested a career (I think it was called Kudos?!). Mine came out as Florist! At the time I was not impressed at all as I’d already decided what I wanted to do and I didn’t see it as an ambitious career. Now I actually think I would quite enjoy it! It’s creative, active (compared to my current office job) I love flowers and I like the idea of helping people to make someone’s day! The other advice I was given by my parents who were both teachers was “don’t become a teacher” but also follow you dreams, you can be anything you want to be if you have talent and work hard.

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20’s: I think as a woman, society is more accepting of me showing and exploring my emotions.

20’s: I think as a woman, society is more accepting of me showing and exploring my emotions.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

We did a quiz on a computer at school and it calculated your ‘ideal job’. Mine came up with ‘Golf Green’s Keeper’, I remember that I was really jealous because my friend got ‘TV Presenter’. I once had to do a mock interview for a job in a nursery at school too. Other than that, I don’t remember much other advice.

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40’s: I have brought my sons up to value women as independent thinkers. To realise that true equality is not simple and that they have a part to play as men, in enabling and ensuring that women receive equal opportunities in life.

40’s: I have brought my sons up to value women as independent thinkers. To realise that true equality is not simple and that they have a part to play as men, in enabling and ensuring that women receive equal opportunities in life.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

I got a very mixed message as a young woman. My family were mostly keen that I followed my interests and encouraged me to get involved in creative and artistic activities. My school felt that these things were only useful as hobbies and that ‘the arts’ was not a career that was worth pursuing. My dance teacher and youth theatre director encouraged me to try to get a place on a degree course to study either of these subjects, whilst cautioning me that it was not easy and I would be up against a lot of competition. School careers advice looked at my academic ability and without asking me about my interests told me that I should be a teacher. I hated school and the idea of spending the rest of my life in a school dictating the petty rules to other young people filled me with dread and despair. If I knew one thing it is that I would not be a teacher. I despised school. (Part of my job now is as a teacher and I have spent much of my adult life teaching in different settings).

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20s: We need to let our little girls know that they don’t need to be perfect; they can be brave.

20s: We need to let our little girls know that they don’t need to be perfect; they can be brave.

Work

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

As I’ve grown older I realise how informative my upbringing was in instilling the idea that I could be anything and do anything. This changed regularly, especially as a child when I saw and experienced new things. As I moved through the ranks of wanting to be an actress, television presenter, air hostess, RAF pilot and then a doctor. My parents may have exchanged eye-rolls at my proclamations, assuming I’d grow out of them soon, but I’m loathe to let my mother forget how at the age of three I proclaimed I wanted to be a ballet dancer with long blonde hair, and even now its still the profession that calls to me most (sans the blonde hair).

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60s: It is considered that my generation has had the best deal compared to that of the generations either side of it. In general that is probably the case.

60s: It is considered that my generation has had the best deal compared to that of the generations either side of it. In general that is probably the case.

Work

Careers advice was reasonably limited when I was a sixth former in 1967.  I knew that I wanted to go to university… in other words …get away from home.  It seemed that it was teacher training college or university.  I was doing Maths and Sciences at A level but in the end chose to do Maths and Economics as a degree.  I had no idea what I wanted to do after doing such a degree.  My parents were stock farmers in Wales so my mother didn’t go out to work but helped out on the farm.

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50s: right here, right now is what matters

50s: right here, right now is what matters

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

I don’t exactly remember but suspect that at school there was limited career advice as there was more focus on getting O / A lever results and going to university. My parents paid for an independent career advice session which determined I would be best suited as a) barrister, b) actor, c) journalist (I went for b)

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20s: When I was about eight years old all I wanted to do was go into space and be an astronaut.

20s: When I was about eight years old all I wanted to do was go into space and be an astronaut.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

I don’t recall receiving very much, and any I did get at school was terrible.  What I do remember was being told that I was too clever to be a teacher, which was all I wanted to do, and I should be a doctor.  Yet I never believed this myself, and teaching was all I ever wanted to do.

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60s: There is something fundamentally wrong with the legal situation of women in this country.

60s: There is something fundamentally wrong with the legal situation of women in this country.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

Absolutely none!  Women were considered second-rate beings, fit only for second-rate work, in a shop or a factory, secretarial work at best, and when you married you had to leave – as if signing a marriage license made you stupid.  If you wanted a career (ha ha!) you had to stay single.

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30s: I am pretty happy right now and wouldn’t want to go back to my younger self.

30s: I am pretty happy right now and wouldn’t want to go back to my younger self.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

No real advice in that sense. My mother and aunts and grandmother just always made it very clear how important they thought it was to get a good education and work even after having children to stay independent and to keep all doors open even if the relationship ended up not working out as wished or planned.

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40s: I can see time and again girls are moulded into stereotypes ‘maths is not for you’.

40s: I can see time and again girls are moulded into stereotypes ‘maths is not for you’.

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

I grew up in Yugoslavia, prosperous and socialist country. Women worked, concept of stay at home mum was unknown to us. You had to be really poorly educated not to be in any type of work. I was always good at maths and science and both my parents are engineers so engineering was something I was naturally advised on to pursue as a career. This was reflected at the university – 50% of engineering students were female. When I moved to England, I was a rarity  ( only 7% of engineering students were female).

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30s: ‘the practice of putting on the war paint outlasts the battle’

30s: ‘the practice of putting on the war paint outlasts the battle’

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

Very little; we did that multiple-choice test at school that lots of people did that matches you up with a career – I got actuary (I didn’t know what one was at the time) or journalist; I think I’d have been singularly dreadful at both. Read more

30s: I’m much more creative and much less ladylike

30s: I’m much more creative and much less ladylike

Work:

What kind of careers advice did you get as a young woman?

I don’t remember a huge amount of it. At school we had the Kudos computer system which was a survey that was supposed to tell you what jobs we were most suited to. I don’t really remember what it told me I should do, but the range of it was ridiculous and not helpful at all. It was something like “jockey” and “dentist” in the same list. There were careers advisers available at school but I think they were voluntary and I don’t recall ever going to one. They organised work experience for us (I worked in a supermarket for three weeks), and we were supposed to get a practice interview but I never handed my CV in to the teacher due to an oversight and I never got one!
What did you want to be when you left education? Read more

50s: Physically 57, mentally 35

50s: Physically 57, mentally 35

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

“ You’re going to work in Tesco’s until you get married, aren’t you?” (Dad)

“ There’s no call for interior designers” (Careers teacher in 1979 – I have dodgy dress sense and a double barrelled name; I could have been Laurence Llewellen Bowen!)

“ You like dance and English – you could be an English teacher with dance as your second subject.” (English teacher)

“ Have you thought of joining the Army?” (Careers teacher)

“ You should learn to type so you can work in an office” (everyone!)

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30s: ‘Trying to make myself understand that I am human’

30s: ‘Trying to make myself understand that I am human’

Work:

What kind of careers advice did you get as a young woman?

There wasn’t a lot around, the careers advisor at school wasn’t very engaging, and there was a new computer software package that asked lots of questions and then told you what your most suitable career would be based on the answers you gave – mine was dog groomer or aerial fitter, which I found hilarious! Read more

60s: I’m a work in progress

60s: I’m a work in progress

Work:

What kind of career’s advice did you get as a young woman?

I didn’t. I hadn’t a clue what to do when I left school. I was a bit of an impractical dreamer and really didn’t think about anything realistic at all. I lived in a world of idealized childish dreams of being a ballet dancer (for which I wasn’t trained) or writing a novel (which never got beyond page one). I was quite good at music but not to a professional standard. I used to read stories of famous women who had achieved something and knew I wanted to make a contribution to the good of the world, but what this could be in practice, I hadn’t a clue. In the end my brother made a suggestion which didn’t sound too crazy and unachievable and so I went with it (a career in science). For most girls where I grew up, a career was something you did between school and having children, though most moved with the times and went back to something after a career break. Read more