Simon Potter, MBE recently turned 73 and is busier than ever. Something of a renaissance man, he’s as at home directing plays and penning books as he is riding motorcycles and performing drum solos – and shows no signs of slowing any of his varied pursuits. But what does he put his undimmed enthusiasm down to? We thought we’d let him explain.
“I feel like a bumblebee that shouldn’t be able to fly according to aeronautics, but goes on doing so anyway. I know as long as I find I’ve woken up, had a (large) breakfast and it’s about 11am, I should live to see another day.
“When you get to 73, much of your brain doesn’t really believe it has happened, though I believe there are certain things that aid one when 'silver threads appear among the gold'.
Retain the obsessions of youth
“I loved playing drums in various bands – so still have a drum kit ready to blast on if asked. I adored model railways, particularly the die-cast 1950s and ‘60s models of Trix and Hornby-Dublo, so I still have a layout, and a vast collection of all the locomotives, coaches and buildings I would have liked aged 12, but requests for which met with a genial guffaw from dad because of the prices.
“I have liked motorcycles since my early twenties. My wife agrees it would be sensible not to tear around on two wheels these days, so my interest in trikes and sidecar outfits takes the form of a Harley-Davidson trike and a Honda ‘Fury’ custom cruiser with a Watsonian ‘Mosquito’ chair on it. I like hi-fi, too, and nurture a system of Brit early transistor amps, valve reel-to-reel recorder, hydraulic record deck and giant studio speakers.
“I have taught English Literature for more than 50 years – the last 48 of them in my current London school – and have adapted, written and directed musicals and plays for young people (having finished the 67th before lockdown scuppered the 68th). I still revise A Level Eng Lit every year, and have plans to start a GCSE English Club for those who wish to study the subject at A Level.
“Sometimes a chap will sidle up to me at rehearsal and say, “Sir, my Dad says you taught him Macbeth when he was here as a boy.' And I gasp and reply, 'What! You… arse! How can I have taught your Dad? How old is he?' And the boy will say, 'He’s 48, sir'. And I will pull him to one side and hiss, “Look, don’t tell the rest of the cast, but I’m – err – coming up to my 40th birthday next month. Your father must be thinking of another Mr Potter. Ssssh! Keep it mum.' This has got harder to bring off convincingly of late, I admit.
“I was astonished to hear that I had been awarded an MBE in 2016 for my work. One of the questions the Queen asked me at Windsor Castle was, 'Do you still enjoy doing all this now you are over retirement age?' The answer, though I think I only mumbled an incoherent reply at the time, is: 'Yes, I jolly well do!'
Writing, writing and more writing
“I started my first novel in 1988 and it was published in 1991. Since then I have created audiobooks on Shakespeare and classical poetry, a collection of poems, a definitive work on converting large motorcycles to sidecar outfits and trikes, and a history of Wimbledon College, the school in which I teach – among many other things.
“The bulk of this scribbling has come after I reached the age of 60, and had slimmed down my working hours in teaching by going part-time and giving up being Head of Department in 2002, aged 55. In short, the so-called 'mature' years have been a sort of renaissance, and I have the time to indulge my fondness for writing.
"Although I am digitally savvy, you don’t always need to be to produce a book. A PC is a boon to the writer, and the near-universal interchange of emails and attachments seems the natural way of going about things. But there are firms who will take a typed book and re-frame it to make a printable PDF, and individuals who advertise typing up from handwriting or the recorded voice.
“My last word should probably be: write about what you are interested in, not that cop tale you feel you ought to dash off because crime novels are always popular.”
Older people take their passion for writing online
SWit’CH, a writing group that's part of Age UK Salford, continues to meet via video conferencing during this period, providing local older people with opportunities to be creative in a sociable environment.