How To Be 70: Part Three – Body Confidence

The saltwater infinity pool at Finca Buenvino, September 2019, during my 70th birthday celebrations with friends and family.

You see before you four women – 64, 44, 70 and 69. All in bikinis, and all standing proud. (And in my case, gripping on to the others and whimpering nervously incase I fell into the water…)

Every year I buy a swimsuit, and every year I don’t wear it. Every year I hear the voices, ‘At your age? Put it away, love.’ I really did think that this would be THE year – the year when I gave up the two-piece and hid behind the sticky, wet Lycra curtains of M&S’s best offering. At the beginning of this season I asked my 30-year-old daughter, ‘Do you think my guests will feel a bit uncomfortable seeing me in a bikini, rather than a swimsuit? Is it unprofessional?’ ‘Well, you could go and buy a new one, spend some money, go shopping?!’ She had a point but I hate shopping for clothes on- or offline. Most of my outfits are either charity shop, years old or inherited from my daughter’s ‘don’t want’ pile with the addition of the odd piece – yes, you Ganni orange lace – that I’ve spent a small fortune on for a special occasion. But that has worked out well on the cost-per-wear so guilt assuaged. The thought of spending the day in Westfield getting naked in blaringly-lit changing rooms made me feel decidedly queasy, so I gave in and decided to stick to the black Boden triangle top and Topshop bottoms that I acquired three years ago.

Earlier this year I was on the beach in Crete, where all shapes, sizes and ages of women were in bikinis. I was on the coast at Cãnos De Meca in Spain, too – bikinis, topless mostly, and some nude. When you get out in the sun, you realise that we are all gloriously imperfect, we all have bits and bobs that we worry about whether varicose veins, bingo wings, flabby tums or cellulite. Unless we are prepubescent, Photoshopped or ‘refreshed’ we will. It’s called life, pregnancy, ageing or just too many cream cakes and not enough jumping up and down. I want to try and convince you that it really does not matter what we wear as long as we are comfortable and I find swimsuits incredibly uncomfortable unless I’m attempting widths in a municipal pool. What is important is that we are alive and laughing and that we celebrate our friendships with other women because we are all in the same boat…and I do believe a brown tum is infinitely more attractive than a pasty white one, anyway. Vanity, thy name is Elaine.

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News & Dates – Writing Retreats Spain 2020

Write It Down! Spain 2019 is over – Bring on 2020!

It feels like Elaine has given me a precious gift that will last a lifetime – the confidence to write and the understanding of how to write. Where I thought I had nothing to say, I now feel that my life is significant enough to write my memories and that I can do this for the rest of my life. I have found my voice and feel renewed and empowered.’ Siobhan

The most perfect holiday. I have felt so looked after and nurtured. A life affirming combination of walking, meditation, writing and food in a beautiful house and location. Thank you, Elaine.’ Kate

We are thrilled to announce that we have been chosen by Guardian Travel as one of their TOP TEN LIFE-CHANGING RETREATS WORLDWIDE plus Finca Buenvino, our Andalucian farmhouse home, has been chosen as one of Alastair Sawday’s 25 Favourite Places To Stay in Europe.

Now October is here, and that means saying goodbye to Finca Buenvino for 2019. Thank you to Sam, Jeannie, Charlie and Jago Chesterton for being the very best hosts any writing group could ever wish for. This year has been wonderful – and as ever, we have shared lots of laughter, some tears and much, much brilliant writing.

BUT no need to fret! As we have confirmed dates for 2020. Booking has now started so, I know everyone says this, but I do advise you to book early to guarantee a place. Buenvino has five exquisite bedrooms, all with private bathrooms and glorious views, some available to share and groups are limited to seven guests to ensure that everyone gets the appropriate encouragement, nurturing and attention.

Here’s the link for more info: 

2020 Dates

Saturday 20th – Saturday 27th June

Saturday 4th – Saturday 11th July

Saturday 5th – Saturday 11th September

£1800 twin room

£2200 private room

Prices include all expenses, minus travel to/from Seville.

Once in a while, you have a holiday experience that you know will stay with you for a very long time. Buenvino and Elaine’s retreats are a magical combination.’ Francesca
Elaine’s calm, positive encouragement is infectious. The combination of beautiful, tranquil surroundings, a stunning property, relaxing meditations, hugely interesting walks and thoughtful and diverse writing sessions all serve to make this a truly inspiring experience.’ Sue

Hope to see you in Andalucia in 2020!

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How To Be 70: Part Two – Relationships

70 will be the first decade I’ll enter living alone.

I do recognise how lucky I’ve been, but I’m not one of those older people who states, ‘I’ve had a good life,’ and sees positivity and contentment only in past achievements.

@ 10: it was parents, brothers and random Labrador in Basingstoke.

@ 20: husband-to-be in West London.

@ 30: same husband and first son in Milan.

@ 40: same husband, two sons, one daughter, cat, hamster and guinea pig in Brighton.

@ 50: same husband, same children, different cat, new dog – still in Brighton but admittedly, husband was terminally ill in hospital in London.

@ 60: new partner and dog in Cornwall.

@ 70: spider plants, North London…

I am, by instinct, a woman who loves to feed and nurture others and I’ve channelled a lot of that into my work. Not yet having grandchildren wasn’t the only reason I started Mums, Babies & Bumps Writing Workshops but it has certainly brought me a lot of surrogate Granny joy. Plus I get to make cake.

My three kids have ricocheted backwards and forwards over the years, I’ve had male models as lodgers when my daughter was studying in Greece, and then she and her partner moved back in with me for a while which I loved.

Since January I’ve lived on my own for the first time in my life with only my over-indulged greenery to care for and it’s freaking me out.  I have been known to say goodnight to my reflection in the mirror. Lots of us have the single-living, single-life, learning-curve experience far earlier on, but my fear, last thing at night when I lay in the dark trying to go to sleep after turning off the light and stretching one arm out across the empty space beside me, is that this situation may be permanent.

This is not a gap that a dog, a cat or Airbnb can fill. Maybe I won’t share my living space with anyone again but I do want to share my life.

I have recently read White Houses by Amy Bloom. This beautifully written, lyrical novel, about reporter Lorena Hickok’s secret, enduring love affair with Eleanor Roosevelt and her tender, bittersweet and often witty descriptions of their gentle companionship and lovemaking, filled me with renewed yearning for the intimacy and joy that a good relationship can give. I’ve had a good marriage and some pretty dodgy relationships so I’m not as naïve as I was but I miss men and I want one of my own again.

So, ever the optimist (don’t groan you at the back), when I return from Spain at the end of the month, I’m going to get off my arse, go back on the dating apps, join groups and clubs and make the effort that my daughter, very wisely, encourages me continually to do. TBC, as they say…


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How To Be 70: Part One

My mum and I

Firstly, a disclaimer.

I have three more weeks of being 69 before I hit the gate.

 TB-perfectly-H, I’m amazed I’m still here. A well-spent youth of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in the fashion business combined with the last nine years that have ushered in a heart attack, skin cancer and breast cancer – have certainly given the Grim Reaper a run for her money. They may have destroyed my hearing but not it seems, me.

’70? Means death,’ said a 70+ woman friend recently and that’s true in certain respects, my genealogy doesn’t bode well. My mother was 79 when she died, my father who preceded her by three months, probably a couple of years younger. I come from a generation whose parents disclosed nothing to their offspring, certainly not their innermost hopes, fears or chronology. I had to work out my mum’s age by subtracting the posting dates on her 21st birthday cards, discovered in her loft after she died, from the date of her death – which I had to double-check with my younger sister. Maybe Alzheimer’s is waiting at the door…

I have no idea how to be 70, it’s approach scares me like no other decade – it seems to demand a certain level of maturity and sobriety, of slowing down and of adopting a different demeanour, and maybe wardrobe, that I really don’t have – or want. It screams OLD at me and suddenly, I worry that a frock that shows my knees is an affront to public decency.

I’m writing this on a flight to Seville to run two writing holidays [apologies, Greta] and have committed myself to running three again next year; plus workshops in UK and an investigation into long-weekend retreats in Italy. Despite the technical challenges of modern marketing and my abhorrence of PDFs, Mailchimp, Squarespace, Excel et al, I’ve started and I will continue because I adore my work and luckily, it seems to make other people very happy as well.

Writing it down has always helped me clarify my thoughts, I need to embrace ageing and maybe this blog will help me discover my ‘how’.


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The Benefits of Being Alone

What living and travelling on my own has taught me

On the beach in Portugal as a participant in  a Heal The Healers retreat in January 2019 - thanks to  Casa Fuzetta

On the beach in Portugal as a participant on a Heal The Healers retreat in January 2019 – thanks to Casa Fuzetta

For the very first time in my life, I’m home alone.

After years of ‘boomeranging’ my adult sons have gone and a couple of months ago, my youngest moved out. She and her boyfriend got their own place, albeit only 30 minutes up the road. For 53 years I’ve cooked, washed, cleaned and looked after other people and absolutely loved it. It’s been noisy, chaotic, exhilarating, terrifying, challenging but almost always, very rewarding. I’ve been a lover, a mother and a carer and before that, I was a 17-year-old daughter living at home with two parents, three younger siblings – and a dog. Now the only beating heart in my home is my own and every room in my three-bed, two-bathroom flat is just for me.

I expected to feel lonely when everyone finally left and took most of their things. I expected to feel sad and yes, initially all the clichés of the ‘one pint of milk and a small, festering loaf of bread’, judgemental stares from the empty mega fridge-freezer, family-sized dishwasher and large-capacity washing machine were true. But bizarrely, I feel 30 years younger and ten feet taller.

The other night, stressing out about not falling asleep as quickly as I wanted, a voice whispered in my ear, ‘Your job is done.’  Freaked out, I changed track in my head and concentrated on my breath and hit back into the mindfulness meditation techniques on which I can always rely. The next morning I realised what that was all about. Yes, my job is done in so many ways. My three kids are happy in their own homes and achieving amazing things professionally, but finally being alone has shone a light on what I have achieved, especially in the last 20 years since my husband died. It has given me space to recognise my own strengths – holding the family together, supporting them emotionally (and sometimes financially) and using my experience and skills to start a new career that I love, empowering others by writing down my life and encouraging everyone to do the same.

Also, maybe I have relied too much, for too long on my children’s company. If ever there has been a film to see, an exhibition to visit, a new travel adventure to plan my first thought has always been, ‘Would Jamie, Will or Lu like to do that with me?’ I have been enormously lucky that a lot of the time, they have said yes. But, it’s time I finally let go and moved on. Found out who I really am and what I want to do for the next maybe 30 years of my life. And lately I’ve discovered that it IS possible to make fabulous new friends when you’re older, you just have to travel more on your own!

2019 lies ahead and I welcome it with open arms. I have no ailing parents to care for, no partner to accommodate, no grandchildren (yet), no health issues that I’m aware of, no car, no mortgage – and no dog. For the very first time in my life I have no dependants, apart from an ever-increasing army of spider plants. The only person I have to look after is myself. What I have always dreaded has turned out to be a true liberation.

A recent report in the UK press stated that, according to the Resolution Foundation report, we are happiest in our lives at 16 and 70. That we are happier, more satisfied and feel a greater sense of self-worth in our earlier years – and again as we approach older age.

I’m 70 in September. Bring it on!

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The Power of Nature

Photo of the Sierra De Aracena by Charlie Chesterton, chef at Finca Buenvino. Follow him on Instagram @foodsunandfun

I’m writing this in a café in north London, down wind from the peppery scent of their Christmas tree. Outside, the sky is blue and the sun shines.

I want to go and play outside, Mum!

Every year it’s the same – every year I’m crawling the walls by December, desperate for sun and fresh air, and yet the answer is in my own hands. Not more extra spending on a possibly-effective SAD light, but getting my butt moving; wrap up, shape up and get out of doors. And not to Savers, Sainsbury’s or another ‘indoors’ but really OUT, OUT.

Whatever the weather.

As a child I found such happiness spending whole days outside –looking after the cows on a near-by dairy farm, searching for shells on the beach, roaming the fields on the family allotment, deep in the Hampshire countryside. All places where I could escape into my imagination, undisturbed by my parents or siblings and find peace and happiness Now, I want a life more in walking boots and waterproofs and less in make-up and outfits socially acceptable for city-living. I want mud. I want to feel my heart race as I climb a hill or mountain and my spirits soar as I reach the summit and gasp at the landscape before me.

The power of the natural world to heal and inspire  is something I need to remember in the dark, indoors days of winter in the Northern hemisphere. Plus now there’s digital help at our fingertips. I’ve joined a Whatsapp group called ‘Nature Therapy Counsel’ which encourages the sharing of photos of the natural landscape. There’s  the website Spirit Of The Trees which ‘provides poetry, folk tales, myths for tree lovers’ and as I type, on my laptop  I have my headphones plugged into a Youtube tape of 11 Hours of  Tranquil Birdsong.

Author Matt Haig was quoted in the Guardian Review recently, in relation to his experience of depression, saying, ‘…the day I realised I was going to be OK was the April after my breakdown, the sun came out and I almost felt a literal weight being lifted.’  And I’ll will be OK too, when the higher light levels return. In May, I’m back in wooded landscape of  the Sierra De Aracena National Park in Andalucia to run writing retreats and there we’ll spend almost all day outside -  meditation sessions, writing workshops, guided walks and eating lunch and dinner – but in the meantime I must  take more advantage of London’s myriad of parks and wild spaces for my mental health, whatever the weather. ‘Tis verily the season for bringing the greenery in but I need to get out as well.

This poem by the American author and poet Wendell Berry is my Christmas gift to you:

When despair for the world grows in me 

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, 

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.’

© Wendell Berry.  From “The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry”






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A Story in Everything

I’m never naked, I’m never alone, I always have my friends around me. In bed, in the bath, on the beach.  I always have my constant companions.

It started with a wedding ring in the early 70s. A three-band Russian from Anschels in the Kings Road, I lost it in a Hot Yoga session in Brighton, slipped off my finger, never to be seen again. My husband had died five years earlier and it had already had migrated to my left hand. Its disappearance didn’t surprise me – its time was up and I was ready to let go.  Then, I lost an earring hung with Wright & Teague charms – all gifts from my husband – during a romantic encounter with a lover in a dark street in Hackney in 2015.  I was bereft for a day or two and then realised, ‘Time for them to leave me as well.’

Lots of us have ‘lucky’ garments that empower us – pants, a flattering white shirt, a favourite pair of jeans. I miss Gareth Southgate and his iconic waistcoat, worn for every World Cup game. But I bet he took it off at bed time. Mine stay with me, like tattoos or piercings. Or the bright sunset orange varnish on my toenails in the winter that shouts, ‘Sandals! Summer! Spain!’ every time I step out of bed on these dark, dank November mornings.

For years, I’ve adorned my body with talismans and totems that I sense are are imbued with special powers as strong as Harry Potter wands or the   stones with holes that are strung on rope in front of my bedroom window – hag stones that the Cornish say may protect me from witchcraft and witches.

Each ring, bracelet or necklace on my body has an emotional history and reminds me of my ability to survive despite what life may throw at me – the twisted silver ring that my son dug up in a garden in Brighton or the thin gold one with a tiny red gem that I bought in Spain, in lieu of an engagement ring from my ex. On my wrist I have memories of Crete, Thessaloniki, Essaouira, Monpazier, Brighton, Hackney, Oxford Circus and Cadiz. Of past loves, present offspring and dear friends.

In April this year, fearful of going alone to a wedding, all dressed up and knowing few others, I drew a tattoo on my wrist with a Sharpie – a triangle with two circles, an ancient symbol for “Widow  with Children’ that a friend-of-friend had posted on Instagram. It was hidden under   all those bracelets but its silent strength empowered me.  I knew it was there and I plan to make it permanent – when I pluck up the courage. I once had a rabbit’s foot that dangled from the zip of my Parka when I was a Mod. But I’ve never carried a twist of a dead relative’s hair in a locket – I know my limitations –  but the Hamsa, the hand of Fatima hangs in my hall and the Turkish nazar, the eye-shaped amulet believed to protect against the evil eye is nailed on my door.

In these times of uncertainty, a few extra tools in our armoury against life’s arrows may come in useful and to the bastardise the words of Jenny Joseph, who died earlier this year, in her famous poem,  ‘Warning,’

‘When I am an old woman I shan’t wear purple but I will  believe in magic.’

This post  first featured on That’s Not My Age - the grown-up guide to great style — edited by Alyson Walsh







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Latest Dates of Workshops And Writing Holidays 2018-19

A purely typographical post for latest information on my writing workshops in UK and writing, walking and meditation holidays in Spain this year and next. All writing is in notebooks with pen or pencil on paper, no writing experience needed for any workshop. They do not focus on spelling, grammar, punctuation or technique but on discovering your unique writing voice and how to boost your self-confidence and self-esteem by writing down your life and sharing your stories with like-minded people.

Creative, unpretentious, down-to-earth, liberating and fun. Uncritical. supportive, small groups.

Mindful Creative Writing Workshops for TOAST, British women’s clothes and homeware brand

TOAST Harrogate store – Friday October 19th

TOAST London,Notting Hill store -  Saturday October 27th

All workshops free, please register here:

Weekly Writing Workshops

London, Stoke Newington - Women’s Writing for Wellbeing Workshop every Wednesday morning, 10.30-12.00pm at The Last Crumb Cafe 

To book:

Writing, Walking and Meditation Holidays 2019

At Finca Buenvino, Sierra De Aracena, Andalucia

May 18-25

June 15-22

September 7-14

For more information and details on how to book:

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Women’s Writing Workshop London N16

Exciting writing workshop news in Stoke Newington 

On Wednesday October 3rd I am launching a new, weekly Write It Down!  Women’s Writing Workshop in north London.

Where and when?

Every Wednesday morning  10.30-12.00pm, at The Last Crumb cafe and work hub in Church St. in Stoke Newington, N16  0AS


Unique small -group workshops that give you space and encouragement to write down your life in notebook form, to re-discover the power of pen on paper and the therapeutic benefits of life-writing and journalling.  An opportunity to delve in your subconscious and re-kindle your creative voice in a calm, peaceful, uncritical and supportive environment. These classes are not about publication, technique, grammar or spelling. They are about the importance of recording your daily life, in hard copy rather than digital, for yourself and future generations. They are about putting your heart on the page, sharing your stories and discovering how writing it down can help you create clarity out of chaos.

How much?

£15 per session, for week one – October 3rd, please pay on the day.

But I have no experience? I’m not a writer?

No experience necessary and I’ll show you that you are!

What will I actually do?

We start with free writing to clear our heads, then more structured exercises. You don’t have to share what you’ve written, most do but there’s no pressure. Memoir, autobiography, creative writing, poetry – lots of laughs and a few surprises. There is a strong confidentiality clause so everyone feels safe to write honestly about themselves.


Downstairs, private room at The Last Crumb. Lots of lovely drinks and food available to buy.

What do I need?

Sense of adventure, sense of humour and a notebook and pen

I want to be there! How do I book?

I will be posting this on Eventbrite but the first week, please email me to reserve a place. Maximum of eight writers.



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Why People Love Write It Down! Writing Holidays

We thought you might like to read what guests are saying about our holidays this year and see some of the beautiful photos taken by one of our writers from Canada, Darlene Chrissley. Maybe you will take the leap and join us in 2019?

‘Finca Buenvino is beautiful, spacious, gracious, welcoming. I’ve never had better food anywhere. Such attention to details that make a difference, like great beds and bedding – it felt like home. What was missing in my life was the daily writing habit, daily walking habit, a wonderful group of companions on the same journey, a thoughtful guide and to be surrounded by nature and beauty everywhere I looked. Thank you for being, Elaine and for providing all of this.’ Darlene, Canada.

‘Thank you for a great week, thank you for sharing with us and for wanting to help others find their voice. You are definitely right when saying we will leave here different people.’  Sylvia, UK.

‘The walks were amazing! I am so glad I was able to do them. I found them exhilarating and very fulfilling, as well as the wonderful scenery, variety of animals, flora and fauna. I would recommend this holiday to anyone, wonderful, delicious meals, swimming and meditating at the infinity pool. Thank you for encouraging me to come out of my comfort zone and take a leap into writing and reading it out to others. I feel more relaxed, fulfilled and confident than I have for a long while. Long may it continue.’ Anne from Scotland.

The teaching methods were top notch! Totally inclusive and sympathetic to individual needs, while keeping the bar high so everyone felt challenged and encouraged to do their best.The meditation sessions were just the right tone. Not too long and easy to resonate with. As a non-practitioner I thought they were pitched the right level. Not too long and not too deep. You have a great voice for it.’ Julia, UK.

‘Elaine’s Write It Down! holiday is the perfect antidote to everyday life. A chance to take your foot off the pedal, recharge, refresh and get a new perspective. The writing exercises are top notch – but there is so much more – walking, nature, meditation and amazing food! Totally fab in every way, I am so glad I came and so grateful to Elaine for making it happen!.’ Mary, UK.

Finca Buenvino is a heavenly finca and if you love nature, beauty, art, antiques, sherry, swimming, walking, writing and exploring your personal stories, you will love this.’ Jo, UK.


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