Elaine runs weekly writing and mindfulness meditation workshops in North London and writing, walking and meditation retreats in Andalucia. She is also a journalist
“My parents used to hit me and told me I was mad from a young age. That’s why I started writing in a notebook, because it was a way of saying how I felt without being interrupted or told I was wrong. I had to fight my way through childhood – and that’s probably what made me the bolshy little arse that I am today. I think my mother was probably a bit jealous of me. When I passed the 11-plus and then went to art school, her attitude was that I’d got way above myself.
I would have gone with anyone to get away from all of that, but Jerry, who I met when I was 17, just so happened to be a really good man. He gave me back my self-esteem and my self-respect. We argued all the time but it was a happy marriage and we always fancied each other.
I always wanted children and aimed to have them by the time I was 30. Then, when it happened, I panicked that it was too early. I needn’t have worried though; it was the best thing I ever did. Producing a person! Jerry brought sausage sandwiches and a gram of coke into the labour ward to keep himself awake, but it happened so fast he needn’t have bothered. I had my next son at home, and went into labour watching Purple Rain at the cinema. After that I had a miscarriage, then finally I had my daughter. When the kids were still young, Jerry got a job in Germany and moved there for eight years. To be honest, after a while, I found it more difficult when he was back than when he was away because childcare is like running a business. I knew how it all worked and he mixed up the routine!
I’d been with Jerry for 32 years when he died. He was only 53, but he got leukemia. We had been such a gang since I was a teenager that after he’d gone, I didn’t really know who I was anymore. I certainly didn’t fit the job description of a widow. After a couple of years, I became suicidal and decided that my kids would be better off with their guardians. I had vague plans to hit the central reservation of the M25 on my commute to London so that it would look like an accident and they’d still get the insurance.
Thankfully, I was commissioned to write an article for Woman and Home about whether you can buy self-esteem and self-confidence. While I was researching it, I came across The Hoffman Process [a residential personal growth retreat] and signed up. I walked in and saw Goldie [the British musician] sitting on a sofa, a taxi driver in his 40s who’d never come out as gay, and a single mother who’d taken a bank loan to do it – it was a total mixed bag. They started the workshops and I just thought, ‘I’m not doing this, this is going to be too hard.’ But I stayed and it ended up saving my life.
People are constantly surprised that I look younger than my age. It annoys me in terms of dating – I know that some men find me attractive but if they know first how old I am, they do a runner. I’m now on Guardian Soulmates and I’ve been on Tinder. But the vast majority of men my age it seems are looking for women aged 35 – 55. I’d love to meet someone, but I’m not going to have sex with just any bloke – that’s what vibrators are for!
I think ageism is worse here than elsewhere in Europe. I see women my age in Spain sashaying down the street with – shock, horror – sleeveless frocks on. I think it’s almost an Anglo-Saxon thing; in the southern Mediterranean, it seems more acceptable to be a sensual woman of my age, but that is frowned upon in the UK. Advertising and the press have a lot to answer for.
I go to yoga and I fucking hate it, but I know it helps my flexibility. I still drink almost every night but I very rarely get completely rat arsed as I know it means I’ll wake up at 4am. I used to smoke 60 fags a day before I got pregnant. I was living on Muratti, coke and Harvey Wallbangers in Milan. I wanted to have some MDMA for my birthday in Spain, but the kids absolutely forbade it. And I’m pleased now, looking back.
I thought about dying the night before I was 70. I worried that someone might come in while I was sleeping and exchange all my clothes for age-appropriate alternatives. My parents both died in their 70s and suddenly, I was entering that same decade. But it’s mad. Why do you think you’re going to transform into a different person simply because chronologically you’re older?
These days, I wake up happy. I am really glad that I can do the job I do. When I see people reading out what they’ve written in a session, I feel so proud that they’ve faced their fears about writing and sharing.
My life motto? Feel the fear and do it anyway. Just fucking do it! There may not be another chance.”