My best friend’s brother lay wasting away in a hospice with two months to live. Two of my friends, early sixties, died in the last six months. Across the road a man lay dead for five days before anyone found his body. Last year I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma cancer. The doctor said it could have killed me in a year. Having escaped death’s clutches, I was shaken out of ‘cozy’. At seventy one, how many years did I have left to experience things I wanted before perhaps losing my mind, the power in my limbs or was being fed soup without knowing it was dribbling off my chin?

My brush with death brought out a strong desire to grab life by the horns, ditch my work as a life coach for an unspecified period and accomplish my major want –to find a soulmate. A recurring dream told me I’d have crazy sex with a man I’d fall in love with at first sight and that I’d meet him in Florida. Call it insane. I call it intuition. When my soul spoke so succinctly, I followed.

I knew my task might prove a challenge since I’m not a woman who fits the perception of how women my age should behave. I still smoke roll ups, Al Capone cigarillos on occasion, and love nothing better than a Jack and Ginger; preferably with a spliff.

I booked a singles cruise, which started out in Fort Lauderdale for reasons explained. My daughter laughingly visualized it as ‘a blood bath with hordes of wild eyed women with stretched out painted claws hissing over a few good men.’ Would I be able to compete? Did I have the energy? The dating site I joined for a month before being guided to Florida, nearly knocked the confidence out of me. My first date was supposed to be at a cosy Japanese restaurant, but as soon as the guy saw me turn the corner, he hurriedly put a mobile to his ear, pretended his granddaughter needed to be rushed to hospital and vanished. The second man I chatted to online, discovered I chopped 5 years off my age and said he never wanted to hear from me again. ‘Are you serious?’ I asked. ‘Serious as a heart attack,’ he said.

I think it was because when he googled my name, he was accosted by pages of headlines such as ‘Stella Ralfini, hilarious 68 year OAP, says using her husband’s spunk as a beauty mask keeps it young.’ The press, worldwide, had a field day distorting an article I wrote to encourage couples to embrace Tantra. So apart from being non-conformist, I’m regarded as not quite right in the head.  As you see, my chances of finding a soul mate were slim – and it was likely I’d be the oldest female on the cruise.  ‘You’ll be fine,’ my daughter conceded. ‘Give the men your Elizabeth Taylor pout. They’ll come at you in droves.’

I knew I’d achieve one wonderful thing on the trip.  The cruise ship stopped at Falmouth, Jamaica for the day. There I’d developed a friendship with a woman called Sheila with whom I had a soul-sister connection with from the first message we exchanged on Facebook. I don’t know whether it has to do with age, but I’ve formed few new deep relationships as I’ve grown older. There was a time when I felt as though I bumped into soul sisters and brothers wherever I went. These days that’s a rare gift. One I sensed I’d share with Sheila – a beautiful, tall strong Jamaican warrior, with the smile of a queen. We both shared strong relationships with God but were feisty, knew what we were worth and got on with making it happen no fuss.

Another of my intentions during the trip was to finish a book I’m writing called ‘Sensual Sorcery.’ This lists my home made natural beauty recipes which are becoming popular on the internet, and might hopefully prove what can be achieved without plastic surgery.  Friends coo at my unlined neck, the baby skin on the back of my hands, the healthy glow in my cheeks. I don’t look 71. I don’t feel 71 apart from the nagging pain, raging through my left leg most days. This developed as an after result of my second cancer operation. No-one can yet explain it, other than I was the one in a million who had an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic used to numb my leg. Until recently I included yoga in my life coach sessions. This was also on hold, due to the fact I could no longer open my legs wide enough to do warrior pose or touch my toes without electrocuting myself with pain – hopefully crazy sex might remedy that.

I dipped into my meagre savings and booked premium comfort everything. Premium economy flight, quirked up, hippy apartment in Fort Lauderdale where I’d stay for two nights pre cruise, my own room with balcony on the ship and a peaceful Zen abode in Boca Raton. I don’t imagine there are many women my age who would blow money saved for hospitals, funerals and unexpected misfortune on sheer indulgence. My take on life is ‘if I need more money I’ll find work.’ A little life of worry, anxiety and fear seem pointless when even our next breath isn’t guaranteed.

A page back, I was telling you that my focus was to find a soul mate and my dream pointed me to Florida. According to friends’ research, Florida was a thumbs-down in the soulmate department because 70% are Democrats who I’d disgust with my liberal attitude – but what’s wrong with saying I smoke weed? My lifestyle’s been rock ‘n roll since I bought my first motorbike at 18 and got high listening to Zeppelin and Deep Purple. I worked for the Rolling Stones as their Personal Assistant for three years in the seventies, I’m still a hippie, albeit it with a glamorous, slightly decadent diva slant. I feel as connected to the music scene as I did in my heady twenties, can dance the pants off anyone on a dance floor; and I’m the kind of woman a man can take to a peepshow to watch women writhe about naked. Particularly in Amsterdam with its abundant Coffee Shops. Surely, there’d be one such man in Florida who could embrace such a fun-loving, partially crippled, smoking, drinking, drug taking 71 year old with lesbian tendencies?

The day before my trip, I looked up at the sky and shared my concerns with God. A star fell out of the sky and zigzagged towards me like a firefly.  I knew then I would find my soulmate and we would accept all there was to accept about each other. I told my daughter when she kissed me goodbye at the airport. ‘Good job you’re cool,’ she smiled. ‘Cos you are definitely cuckoo.’


The above opening extract is taken from Stella’s unbelievable, touching adventure, ‘Clothed in Chocolate Sauce.’ which recently took her to Florida, Jamaica and Mexico.  Subscribe to Stella’s website to receive weekly updates and follow the story from start to finish.