Friday 19 July 2019

Not Fade Away: How to thrive in retirement

I've just heard the Daily Express is going to publish extracts from my latest book,  Not Fade Away: How to thrive in retirement. They asked for some pics of my parents, because it was my father's retirement that partly inspired me to write the book.  Like so many people, he really struggled when he gave up work.  I wanted to find out why retirement can be so hard for some people while others are able to live life to the max.  And I wanted to explore ways to make sure it's the best time of your life, not the worst.

Sunday 16 December 2018

Last-minute Christmas presents for empty nest parents

Empty nesters have spent years thinking about other people.  Now it's time to focus on themselves.   Look for something they'll really like,  not something for the kitchen or garden.  The more self-indulgent the better! 


  • A gift voucher for a massage or manicure. 
  •  Nail polish.
  •  Champagne
  •  Silk pyjamas 
  •  Music 
  •  A gripping empty nest novel:  Us by David Nicholls, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (also on DVDor Joanna Trollope's Second Honeymoon.


  • A gift voucher to try something new - a riding lesson?  a writing course?  Dancing lessons?  An activity to do together?    Empty nesters are keen to try new activities  - but they often  appreciate a nudge in the right direction. So a book or voucher are great ideas.  Organisations like Creative Breaks have Christmas vouchers for a variety of courses.
  •  An inspiring travel guide, like Lonely Planet's Ultimate Travelist  
  •  'Mamma Mia' on DVD - OK it's a cheesy old chestnut but it's very cathartic.  Grown men weep when Meryl sings 'Slipping through my fingers' to her departing daughter.  
  •  Two photograph albums - one for nostalgic family pics, the other for the adventures ahead.  Shepherds near Victoria station in London has  beautiful ones

Friday 7 September 2018

Top three things your student really needs

You can't go near a shop at this time of year without offers for student starter packs and comprehensive checklists (thanks for this one,  John Lewis).

It all feels quite comforting (if pricey).  It makes you feel you're in control when inside you're probably panicking about what the future holds. It's a way of fending off the terrifying notion that you've done your job: from now on you'll have to let your child make his or her own mistakes.

Of course, it goes without saying that students don't need all this stuff.  (I'm not proud to admit that I packed my eldest off with no duvet, so he froze through the Newcastle nights with the cheapest 4.5 tog he could afford.)

Three things students really need to get a head start:

  • simple recipes of favourite meals that are easy/microwavable.
  • something comforting from home.  A recent survey found that nearly a third of students take    their  old teddy. 
  •  a note or card from you - saying all the stuff you'll forget to say when it comes to saying goodbye

And forgive me for being cheesy,  but what they really need is to know that you'll always be there when they do make their own mistakes.

Empty Nest fast approaching? How to prepare

                                             print by Carol Wilhide

It's hard to know how best to prepare for the empty nest because you really have no idea how it's going to hit you.  You might end up driving back down the motorway with tears streaming down your face,  or you might just feel it's all...well... OK.

But you can start preparing now by thinking creatively about what your new life will be like and the different ways you might adjust to a new routine. You can prepare your child too. They'll be much happier if they know the basics of looking after themselves.

 However, the main thing now is to shift your focus away from your child and back on to you. To explore what you really like doing, and discover what truly fulfils you.
  • Think about the times you're likely to miss your child the most, and make a plan to fill the gap: listen to a podcast, phone a friend,  meet someone. 
  • Make a list of stuff you know will cheer you up when you're down
  • Plan treats for the week after they've left - the more self-indulgent the better
  • Look into courses that interest you.
  • Sit down with your partner and make a list of stuff you'd like to do together over the next year.  Don't think 'He/she wouldn't like line dancing/birdwatching/ going to the footie. You might be surprised. 
  • Book a fabulous holiday and weekends away

Monday 20 February 2017

Music sharpens the brain (mine anyway!)

Research just published by Dr Dawn Rose at Herts University points to new ways that learning an instrument benefits children: it improves their 'fluid intelligence' and emotional wellbeing - and much more.

But it's not just kids who benefit.  Last September I picked up my flute for the first time in 30 years (I dropped it because I didn't have time to practice with three kids)  and joined a class playing traditional folk tunes.

We're encouraged to play by ear, which is a steep learning curve if you're used to relying on written music. But it's so worth it. When I've stopped banging my head against the wall in sheer frustration I can almost feel my brain synapses connecting - or whatever it is synapses do.

Afterwards my brain feels as if it's had a complete physical work out:  exhausted but flexing new muscles.  And it doesn't stop there.  Between classes I feel the benefits in so many other areas of my life: there's a new energy, a new clarity.   Beats Sudoku any day.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Cars for empty nesters

The empty nest has many silver linings: less laundry, no one to nag.....
But this one has taken a while to dawn on me. Our sensible grubby roomy hatchback is redundant.  The big boot is surplus to requirements.  Now I can drive the car I've always dreamed of.

It's a strange one for me, because I'm a rubbish driver. I have panic attacks just thinking about the M40.

But I had a Damascene moment when I climbed into my friend's sporty BMW last week.  Her only regular passengers since her kids left home are her two teeny terriers.

I know it sounds sad, but bowling down the country lanes went straight to my head.  It felt a bit Thelma and Louise, the sort of thing women with no responsibilities do.

Suddenly I thought, if I had a car like this....or the vintage Triumph Herald I dreamt of as a student... or any car I chose because I loved it, not because it was big enough and safe enough - maybe I could conquer my fears of the M40.  Because come to think of it,  it was driving with a baby in the car that gave me the panic attacks in the first place.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Dry January and the Empty Nest

I'm so addicted to alcohol that I used to give it up for Lent.    This year, partly because my daughter was doing dry January,  I decided to get the agony over with quickly.

I really hate not drinking, and I give up with gritted teeth (poor husband).  Every evening I distract myself with elderflower cordial,  peanuts, the Twin Peaks box set and a late-night cup of cacao.   There's no way I'm going out to dinner with no wine.

Eleven days in and I'm pulling it off -  just one lapse so far.   It was the day my daughter left home for good and I needed consolation.

So why give up something you love so much?  Simple: clarity and energy.  Drinking was taking up so much of my time and draining my energy.  Why squander the new levels of energy you get when your kids leave on a habit? This is something you only really recognise when you give up for a bit.

What's helped me a lot  is to stop feeling guilty about how much I drink  - thanks to the hypnotherapist Georgia Foster, who has written a great book on the subject.   She doesn't believe most people have to give up completely, and she doesn't make you feel guilty about drinking. She just offers manageable strategies to help you control your drinking, not the other way round.

Oh, and the other thing that's really helped are Wet Weekends!