Monthly Archives: November 2017

A podcast about Celebrating Grandmothers

As regular readers will know, I write a lot of blog posts for SixtyandMe, an excellent organisation for older women with a website and a Facebook page, where you can learn a lot.

Today, Margaret Manning, who runs SixtyandMe, put out a podcast about Celebrating Grandmothers.  It is about ten minutes and you can see it here:

It is titled ‘What kind of grandmother are you?’ and was broadcast today, 29 November 2017.

Review: Wise Before their Time has similar impact as Lionel Shriver


It was a sad book, something I wouldn’t dare to re-read but glad anyways that I have read it. I remember reading ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver and having the same feelings; as a parent, the book was so hard for me to read and yet, I was awfully glad I had read it. Wise Before Their Time is totally different in context from Lionel Shriver’s. It is a difficult book to read not as a parent but as a sensitive person.

The first edition was published in the time when AIDS was still considered a tabooed subject; being tested HIV Positive was an automatic death sentence and a social stigma; no one wanted to get associated with HIV Positive people. To read the book at the time it was published for the first time would have been, an altogether, a different experience. Things today have changed so much. The patients can talk about it openly. Access to antiretroviral drugs has become easier. HIV Positive people can live a better, healthier and a normal life. So in that context, this second edition of Wise Before Their Time serves an altogether different purpose: The feelings: what the patients feels, what kind of impact being tested positive makes on them, how they come to term with living with the disease, how the fear of isolation, rejection haunts them? The following lines from the poem ‘If You Want to Love me’ from the book beautifully sum up all the emotions in a few words:

If you want to love me
Then love me now.
Don’t look for tomorrow
And don’t ask me how.
I can’t give you a guideline
It is your love,
Your life,
It is you.

Difficult times brings out either the strength or the weakness in a person. The person never stays same. He either becomes bigger or smaller. And it was heartening to learn that most patients after being tested positive came out stronger, wiser, and more mature.

The author, through interviews with patients, has presented an honest, moving picture which touches a reader’s heart. Do read this book. If not for anything else then just to understand and appreciate the beauty of being healthy and being alive!

Avira N, author of YOU left me, sweets, two legacies: Famous Love Poems


Do you sing? No, I don’t mean, are you an opera singer, because there are precious few of those. I just mean do you like to sing, for instance, in the shower or in the bath? Or perhaps to yourself as you potter around the house. It is a joyous activity, which can be done at any age.

Some Say They Can’t Sing

A few people will tell you that they can’t sing. And they may be right. Some say that everyone can sing, but I suspect there are a few people in this world who somehow lack a sense of tune or the ability to hit the right note. Not all that many, but I know some.

Singing as a Child

Most of us were expected to sing in childhood – whether at school or in church or within the family. It wasn’t something we were asked about, any more than anything else we did as children, but just another activity we did.

My mother, who was not a very good pianist at all, used to sit down at the piano and play folk songs for me and my siblings to sing with her. I quite enjoyed that and learned a lot of songs, particularly old folk songs.

I am told that I caused a bit of a stir when I proposed “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” when asked what we would like to sing in nursery school. I thought it was a rousing good tune!

As an older child, I sang in the school choir and found that very satisfying. I sang alto and loved the challenge of not singing the tune, but thereby making the whole sound better. I still do.

Singing in a Choir

For the past 20 years I have sung in a choir. We generally sing serious music, like Brahms’ Requiem or a Mozart Mass or even Bach, but we do branch out to other things from time to time. We even sang Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen on one occasion.

Singing in a choir is the source of enormous pleasure. I highly recommend it.

The sense of singing with others somehow creates a real bond inside the group, because the whole is so much better than the sum of the parts.

You struggle with the hard parts together and triumph together when you get it right. It can be frustrating when things go wrong, but oh so wonderful when everyone is singing well.

Choirs are also a wonderful place to meet people of all ages. I don’t know the age of everyone in my choir, but I know we span from people in their 20s to at least one woman in her 90s. You develop friendships over break-time which often spill over to meetings on other occasions.

And, of course, there is the pleasure of performance – to sing beautiful music for the benefit of others is a wonderful activity, whether in a church or concert hall.

Singing in the Bath or Shower

I never went in for singing in the bath or shower, but I believe many find it a delightful way to enjoy two pleasing activities at the same time.

Singing and Your Health

The cherry on top of all the above is that singing, no matter the location – choir, bath or wherever – is very good for your health. It is good for your lungs and is also good exercise. Certainly, when you are feeling down, you will feel much better after a good singing session.

What’s not to like?

This was originally published with a different title by Sixty and Me ( and should not be re-blogged.

New Review: “An Incredibly Important Read”- 5 stars

When Wise Before Their Time was first published in 1992, it served two purposes – to educate people on what life was like for the heartbreakingly large number of young people (and god, they were young) who were living with HIV and AIDS around the world, to try and beat the stigma and combat false information; and to directly speak to people who had the disease and who were feeling its often isolating and alienating consequences. I was born in 1995 and therefore missed out on a majority the horrors of the pandemic, but as Ann Richardson states in the foreword, my generation and the ones that come after it, are the reason why this book needs to be republished – so that people do not forget the horrors and fears of the past and, in some places in the world, the present; that we remain educated and continue to stand in solidarity with people who are HIV-positive and those living with AIDS.

I suppose I find some comfort in how much has changed in just my lifetime, a mere twenty years although to some it must feel like a millennia – HIV screenings have become commonplace with pre- and post-exposure drugs becoming far more readily available; the creation of needle exchange programmes in many countries around the world; and, more people than ever are engaged in an open and honest discussion about all aspects of the disease. Also, at least in my part of the world, living with HIV/AIDS is no longer seen as a negative on someone’s character and it is no longer solely talked about in hushed voices behind closed doors, moving into classrooms, university campuses and many other social arenas.

And I think that we have every person involved in the creation of this book to thank for a small part of that being made possible.

Each one of the voices in Wise Before Their Time is powerful and sobering. They show the everyday realities of living with a disease that people, including doctors as their tales repeatedly show, knew virtually nothing about. They talk honestly and incredibly openly about all aspects of the experience of living with HIV/AIDS – from how they got their diagnosis, to confront their own mortality, to telling friends and family members, to their hopes for the future. Expanding on the latter, there is a definite sense of hope that is forges the undercurrent for the entirety of the interviews as, no matter how long the person had had the disease or what part of the world they lived in, they refused to give up, every single one of them. And that is surely, the true definition of inspiring.


Older women and the AIDS epidemic

Do you remember the terrible AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s? Were you directly affected by it? We older women are all old enough to remember. But for some, it may have passed by as an awful situation that happened to other people, with little impact on their family or friends.

And for others – more than is often recognised – it had a dreadful import. Many were reluctant to talk about it to anyone. It was a time of great stigma and shame.

AIDS and Women

Because HIV was most rife in the gay community, it was often thought that it did not have a big impact on women. Yet, there were some women who acquired HIV through other routes, such as needle-sharing or partners who brought it home to them.

But to limit discussion to these women is to misunderstand the nature of human relationships. Whether or not we had HIV ourselves, we were also mothers, sisters and friends. Some of us worked in professions, such as dance or theatre that were heavily implicated. Many of us were deeply affected.

Wise Before Their Time

In the late 1980s, I met – and became close friends with – a young man who had been living with AIDS for a long time and was very active in the HIV/AIDS community.

In 1991, he was organising an international conference in London of people with HIV and AIDS and we decided to write a book based on interviews with some of the participants. In all, we interviewed over 20 people from 15 different countries about their lives.

These mostly young men and women described their efforts to cope with the stigma, blame and guilt associated with the disease. They talked about their difficulties in telling their parents, partners and friends. Not to mention coming to terms with a very early death.

The book, Wise Before Their Time, was published in 1992. Sir Ian McKellen wrote a Foreword in which he said, “this collection of true stories is as powerful as any great classic of fiction.” My friend did not live to see its publication. See

Bringing the Significance Home

I always saw a major audience for this book to be the ‘hidden’ mothers all over the world. Some might be too ashamed to tell their friends or neighbours about their son with HIV, while others might be grieving for a son who died too early.

The significance of HIV for all sorts of women was brought home to me on one very memorable occasion.

My parents were living in a retirement community, which sometimes invited residents’ children to give public talks, based on their expertise. My father was keen for me to give a talk based on this book.

Since AIDS was not a disease discussed much by ‘respectable’ people, I suspected this was not likely to be a very popular event! But my father was very well liked, and he told everyone that they had to come. The hall was therefore packed.


I did readings from the book for half an hour or so. At the end, there was a short silence before any applause. One friend of my parents told me afterwards, “We were all stunned”. But there was enormous response, with active questions and discussion.

Afterwards, I was swamped with women wanting to talk to me about their own situation. They wanted to talk about their sons, their brothers, their friends.

One woman asked me to come to visit her, because her son had died of AIDS, and she had never told anyone at all. Another left some cash in my parents’ mailbox with a request that it be given to an AIDS charity.

It showed how many women were affected by the disease, yet were suffering in silence, perhaps not realising how many other people were in the same situation.

AIDS is no longer a fatal disease, and people diagnosed with HIV can expect to live a normal life span. But I recently decided that Wise Before Their Time would have historical interest and I have now reissued it.

If you were affected by AIDS – or even if you weren’t – I hope you will find it very powerful indeed.

This post was first published by SixtyandMe ( and should not be re-blogged