Getting in touch with my inner Heidi

As I’ve grown older, my need for the great outdoors has increased. I’d now rather unblock a drain than sit at my computer all day. I mean I don’t mind online shopping, I’m not weird or anything, but all the everyday faffing involved in finding new house insurance, re-taxing the car and dealing with email traffic is not what I want to be doing. As a result, I now seize every opportunity for outdoor fun.

I’ve just had the ultimate outdoor experience in the Alps and released my inner Heidi in the enchanting Val Gardena area of the Dolomites.

I’ve always wanted to go to the Alps when all the skiers have bogged off home and the snow has melted to reveal wild flowers, hiking trails and pine scented forests. It didn’t disappoint.

For a start, the hikes in these mountains have one huge bonus – you can get the cable car up and start your walk at an altitude of 2,500 metres. All the exhilaration of clearhiking-square mountain air, marmots and muesli packet scenery in full view within 20 minutes and pretty much all flat and downhill for the rest of the day. What is not to adore?

Here’s me wearing an attention-seeking yellow top which was no fashion statement but, let’s face it, in a disaster the helicopter would spot me first.

The Dolomites are a pinky-coloured mountain range in the Southern Tyrol, and until 1919 were part of Austria but were gifted to the Italians after WWI. As a result the region feels more like Austria than Italy and the locals speak a language called Ladin – similar to a mash-up of French, German and Italian – and consider themselves Tyrolean first and Italian second.

It also turns out this was the area where the Von Trapps escaped from the Nazis in The Sound of Music. Consequently the meadows between the peaks were begging to be twirled on à la Julie Andrews. I mean it would be rude not to.

I wish I had the waist for a dirndl. All the staff wear them in this area, and very flattering they are too, pushing you up and over the bodice. But here’s the best thing about them: you tie the apron according to your dating status. Tie on the left and you are available, on the right you’re married, and in the middle you are a bit of both. How clever is that? Never mind about all those searching questions and sizing someone up only to lead to disappointment. How much easier than online dating that is.

The hikes are beautifully signposted for those of us who are rubbish at maps, and in the sunshine the peaks go an unusual pinky colour, owing to the fact they were originally a coral sea bed and were pushed vertically out of the earth 20,000 years ago.

The other joyous part of hiking in the Alps is the mountain huts. Normally they are full of skiers but in summer they’re bedecked with sun loungers, blankets and views to make your jaw drop.tinder

They all have their own signature strudels, schnapps or homemade gin, but I loved the one run by Oscar and his family. Oscar is looking for a wife. Surely she needs to be called Heidi. Here he is using the Alpine equivalent of Tinder but he’s not having much luck so far.

For the rainy days there are cookery courses, yoga, and herbal hikes ending, in my case, with the Paratoni farmhouse where Gemma Insam makes her own amazing food with foraged herbs – homemade butter with rose petals, nasturtiums, nettle crisps and bread infused with wild spinach.

I badly coveted her gingham pinny. Pinny envy is something I am increasingly prone to, along with an involuntary love of anything made of gingham. I have no control over my love of it, in fact. Perhaps I will start the world’s first 12-step programme for gingham addicts.

Apart from the hiking, you can also take electric bikes up the mountain, and if there was ever a good reason to use one, the Alps would surely be it. The truth is ski resorts without the skiing are a fast growing part of the ski resort

In winter too, the non-skier is increasingly well catered for. Many people want to come and experience the snow without throwing themselves down the mountain on a pair of skis. It’s called sanity.

Instead they can take one of the daily guided snowshoe walks, sledge down after supper by moonlight, cross country ski, or just hike out with a stout pair of boots and come back to saunas, yoga and a nice hot bath and an apple strudel. Most hotels offer daily free non-ski activities; make sure your hotel or Garni (B&B) is hooked up to Val Gardena Active Programme.

This article first appeared on Standard Issue in October 2016.

How to Feel Instantly Twenty Years Younger

Don’t waste time and effort trying to push up, pull in or plump up your remaining reserves of sex appeal. It will be a waste of time and money. Instead mix with people considerably older than you are.

Today I experienced the equivalent of having 10 years taken off my age. People wanted to talk to me, be my friend and sit next to me. They laughed at my jokes, hung on my every word and want to see me again. That’s because today for the first time I helped out at the local village hall serving lunch to the “old” people. When I say “old” actually they looked quite young to me, but apparently the average age is about 85. That’s what happens when you get a little bit old yourself, just like policemen looking young old when you are middle aged, when you are in your sixties “old”people start looking young.

I commend it to you as a way of making yourself feel younger, and more useful. What’s more they are fabulously good company.

Way to go, and who knows one day someone might make me a giant ginger sponge pudding on a weekday lunchtime.



Great sitting nosy chins

GREY PRIDE – manifesto number one

Don’t underestimate me

I’m now so old that I know stuff. If I lived in a tribal village I’d have the best seat by the fire in the wig wam and be called something like Great Sitting Nosy Chins and wear a big showy offy headdress with feathers on. People would come and ask me when I predict the rains will come or when to plant the rice harvest or whether they should marry the weedy boy from the next village. I’d have a bong pipe and get my own way a lot. Sadly I live in the M4 corridor which means that despite my advanced years and thickening waist no-one is going to ask me much – because they can just google it.

What people fail to recognise is that I have qualities which are infinitely more useful than google. I have good judgement. I know when people are lying and when they are talking bullshit, often before they have even opened their mouths. Maddeningly few people seem to realise this or give me the respect I deserve, so I too need a big headdress and a bong pipe and a nice elder name. I could set up in the local garden centre – take over where Father Christmas left off and colonise the Grotto – I could ask other like minded elders to ritual ceremonies which involve cake and dry white wine. We would invite younger people to come in and share their problems and dilemnas and stop them getting great big tattoos all over their arms before it‘s too late, or suggest that they wait a while before marrying someone who looks like they might be a liability or have the mother in the law from hell. Think how useful we’d be. We could have a figure head of our tribe who would sit at Cabinet meetings and be Minister for the Pull Yourself Together Party. Piping up to tell politicians who look too old to be out on their own when what they are proposing has either been tried before and died on its arse or just will never work. Or is plain silly. Like HS2 or the Bedroom Tax.

Someone needs to use our skills and our wisdom, and tap into our ability to read a knitting pattern or know what to do with some zinc and castor oil. As it is no one seems to care much about what we think or know, or be keen to use the knowledge and judgment we have. We’re not even complacent. We’re great learners. Send us to university, keep us learning, top up our knowledge and then make use of us is surely the way to go.

People seem to get more and more of an appetite for learning as they get older. Almost a third of undergraduates today are mature students, and 15% of all 45-54 year olds in Britain are in education or training. More to the point we are probably the most conscientioius students in town. Surely the way to go is to give us some incentives, help us reboot ourselves to retrain or just plain carry on learning and we will not only be useful sources of wisdom, but we’ll probably still be earning money.

There are however a couple of snags which we need to be honest about. Despite my thirst for knowledge, and new interests that I wouldn’t have thought possible, a lot of mental tasks take me longer. I find it harder to concentrate, and to remember anything short term. I assume this is because my memory banks are full and clogged up like a computer that needs to be taken to the tip or have its hard drive replaced. It’s not like I forget everything short term, but I need to write things down more. My mental clipboard is not as efficient as it was, and if I was going to buy a stair-lift I would need a high speed one, so that I can remember what it is I am trying to go upstairs for.

Complicated plots sometimes get the better of me – if I had to paraphrase the plot of the Bourne Identity or any of the last three Bond films on to a post it note I would struggle to fill even one of the little ones, even the ones you use for book marks. But there might be more to this than meets the eye, since I suspect a spot of selective memory is at play here. Just as older people can be selectively deaf I think I can be selectively forgetful, or selectively able. Perhaps older people are better at filtering out the things they no longer want to do in this way than their younger counterparts. I find that as I get older my back is “too bad” to sit through a Shakespeare history play, or go camping. We get good at playing the older card. Well why not?

It’s the same with celebrities, particularly young ones. Interestingly young people are starting to all look similar to me, all those young blonde actresses and singers like Lily Allen or Miley Cyrus or Matt Damon and Leonardo di Caprio begin to look almost interchangeable to me.

I huff and puff about young people finding me invisible but I am starting to find them rather invisible too. So it’s no good pretending (as some of the guides to middle and old age do) that intellectually things get better with age. They sort of do and they don’t. On the other hand I feel more creative, more accomplished, and that I have more to offer than ever before.

Our value to society is hugely underestimated. We need to be passing on our skills and wisdom to society in a way that is much more joined up than it currently is. Retrain us as mediators, magistrates, arbitrators, pay us a modest fee to pass on our life skills encourage us and make it easy for us to learn better and better I/T skills…and surely we need a Minister for the Old.

Senior school without a timetable

Once I turned 60 I suddenly felt like I had gone up to senior school, like a new girl in a new playground but with no timetable.I couldn’t even find anyone who knew the timetable or the headmistress to ask. The only thing that was well signposted were the loos.

Retirement is kicking in. All the previous templates and shapes and routines have gone astray and a new one has to be made up.

So far most of my time seems to have involved a lot of faffing on, or frittering. Tidying up loose ends which have been threatening to trip me up for decades – tax advice, SIPPS, PEPS, writing my will, sorting out my iPhotos, downloading CD’s onto my phone… in other words all the dull stuff I have been putting off for years.

If this is what retirement is like then I shall soon be looking for a part time job. Ideally one that means I can still get up when I feel like it and take a nice mug of tea out into the garden whenever the sun shines.

Ah yes, perhaps I will stay as I am..


At last vigilante over 60s

At last someone has realised that we have eyes in the back of our heads and is using the over 60s to man speed traps in North Wales. I, for one, would happily cruise the motorways of this country with a camera and a clip board catching people driving while using their mobiles. I have a feeling that even if the police only paid me a tenner for everyone caught I might make a fortune. Why? Because I’m a woman who knows when someone has put the wrong bit of rubbish in the wrong bin. Without even being in the room. I should have been in the SS.

The upside of getting older No 1- spotting the gormless

Upside No 1

I may not be a tribe elder with a place by the fire where people come to me for advice on how to get the best potato harvest or how many sheep to offer in a dowry, like in times gone by, but being older comes with a great deal of intuition and know how. One of the best things about being older is that I know stuff. Important stuff like being a good judge of character. Specifically I am able to spot gormlessness at 100 meters and before suspect in question has even opened their mouth. This is useful in many ways. For example, I can weigh up the best supermarket check out operative with 100% certainty and choose the fastest lane on offer. Often, interestingly my radar will point me to the oldest person on the check out as the one who will know the difference between a mango and a tangerine and who will also be able to trouble shoot problems rather than simply call for the supervisor. Sometimes of course my gormless radar is useful because I positively want to seek out gormlessness in a shop assistant. I’m thinking in particular of when I am “Taking back” as in I’ve gone off it, or if I’m honest I’ve already worn it but have gone off it. Then my friends the gormless person in the shop is what you want, not what you want to avoid.

How to feel instantly younger at 60

Don’t waste time and effort trying to push up, pull in or plump up remaining sex appeal. It will be a waste of time. Today I experienced the equivalent of having 10 years taken off my age. People wanted to talk to me, be my friend and sit next to me. They laughed at my jokes, hung on my every word and want to see me again. That’s because today for the first time I helped out at the local village hall serving lunch to the old people. When I say old actually they looked quite young to me, but apparently the average age is about 85. That’s what happens when you get a little bit old yourself, like policemen looking young old people start looking young.

I commend it to you as a way of making yourself feel younger, and more useful. They are as it happens also hugely good company.

Way to go.