From blogging about sex at 80 to travel for older people, Joyce Williams is challenging the way we view our later years, says Margaret Jennings
“YOU could never imagine your parents having sex, could you? When you are young, sex is an exciting discovery. It seems to belong to your generation, to beautiful bodies, to smooth skin, to perfect curves and six packs.
“How can it be possible for the Wrinklies? Do they turn the lights off or what? Of course we don’t! Dark is dodgy at 80. We would probably fall over climbing into bed. But being old doesn’t mean you stop being a normal human.”
This is the feisty voice of Joyce Williams, who, at age 80 two years ago, started a blog as Grandma Williams, to good-humouredly challenge “the negative picture of old people being put out by the media”.
Her blog on sexuality got lots of attention, as of course it tackles one of the main taboos about older people — everything she writes about is from her own experience.
It sprung out of the blogging class she took to learn how to go online, where she was decades older than all her classmates.
“Ageism is often unwitting. It’s hard for anyone who hasn’t got there to recognise what it is like to be in an older body,” she tells Feelgood.
“As an avid traveller, some of my big campaigns have been about things like hotel baths and showers being unsafe for older people — or unsuitable height chairs and noise in restaurants.”
“But I think the real deal was when the youngsters in the class were talking about a sex blog and felt they should apologise to me for it. The following week I told them I was writing a blog about sex at 80…their jaws dropped. It’s been a great success. I even got invited onto BBC World TV live to discuss it. It certainly did something for changing the image of later years!”
It is Joyce’s obvious zest for life, good humour and sharp writing style that is her real ageless weapon, as such.
“I have noticed many of my older friends who are ageing successfully do make fun of their ageing,” she says
when asked about her light-hearted tone.
While life wasn’t always positive for the retired physiotherapist, she certainly grabbed it with verve and continues to do so: In her youth, she got married and moved to the US to work for six years, had a son, got divorced and moved back to Britain as a single mum. She married again at age 43; her husband died of cancer two years later.
At age 74 ,the grandmother of two remarried again, to the husband of an old friend who had died, and moved from her Glasgow home to Yorkshire.
Before that adventure though, at the age of 55, she opted to semi- retire to do freelance consultancy and teaching in physiotherapy around the country.
“Tired of hotel rooms, I bought a small motor home and travelled solo lecturing around the whole of the UK,” she says. “And of course walking, exploring and writing — I had a great time.”
At 80, finding an outlet for her writing with the blogging class was a godsend, she says. However, she advises that, for older people wanting to learn to blog, “hand- holding is essential” with a patient teacher; a set standard class won’t work.
She blogs about five hours a week — and is very active on Twitter.
As a life-long physio, she has a wonderful laissez-faire attitude to her ageing body: “I don’t exercise much and drink a lot, happily. I do a regular check on all my joints and muscles to see they are all in good nick and if find a problem I work on it ’til it is sorted… frozen peas, pills, a bit of massage usually does it,” she says.
“I try to walk daily and do a little routine — enough to work most muscles, stretch everything, get me out of breath and I add in some balance stuff.”
Joyce says she’s “not happy” with the current push for extreme exercise; it causes more injury than does good. And, she asks: “Who needs to be able to do star jumps or run half a marathon?”
On fear of ageing and death, she says: “Ordinary illnesses and problem hips are temporary setbacks and we get over them. The real fear, I suspect, is of how we will die. And until we sort out more choice and dignity, for that last little bit of ageing, I can empathise with that.
She suggests we stop listening “to the media doom and gloom and look around. Everywhere you see us oldies enjoying life... many, many say they are having the best time ever. I’m certainly now happier than I have ever been.”
Check out Joyce at grandmawilliams.com