IT was a conversation with a neighbour in the Dales 'assisted living' complex where she lives that prompted Phoebe Caldwell to write a book aimed at challenging the ‘old age stereotype’.

Phoebe, who is 87, is an authority on autism, has 14 books or translations under her belt, including one on ageing, and has included herself - a ‘listener’ in the book, which was written during the coronavirus lockdown.

She says she wanted to show that old people are still individuals, despite how they are often lumped together as ‘oldies’, ‘golden-agers’, ‘crumblies’, or the truly awful ‘coffin-dodgers’.

Her fascinating book ‘Out to Grass’ grew out of a series of conversations with her neighbour about their lives and the landscape where they live.

“As the idea was embraced by other residents, it expanded into a sort of rural Lowry painting with individuals set against a particular environment, but only incidentally related to each other,” she says.

The result is a collection of memories of 20 of her neighbours in ‘Warrendale Knotts’ - some held on Skype because of coronavirus - and one non-resident who Phoebe came to know while living in Bentham.

From their stories, we learn fascinating details about life in North Craven, set against historical events.

They include Margaret whose first job was a receptionist at the Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey, and who recalls when 60s singer Frank Ifield came to stay, and Kathleen, from a family of farmers and engineers, who while in London, representing the local Women’s Institute at the AGM, slapped the face of a man because of his unwanted attentions.

“When her neighbour on the other side (at the theatre) asks if she is having a problem, she reassures him: Thank you no. It’s sorted’".

There is also Jehovah Witness, Frank, an international youth leader, and Joan, who wrote a book describing life with a child born profoundly deaf. Joan's daughter went to university, had a successful career and got married, but shortly afterwards was killed along with her husband in a motorcycle crash.

Born in London into a family of scientists and engineers, Phoebe’s father Air Chief Marshall Sir Roderick Hill was a chief test pilot and rose through the ranks to become commander in chief of Air Defence of Great Britain (Fighter Command).

She is an expert practitioner who has spent 45 years working with people on the autistic spectrum. In 2011 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science (DSc) by Bristol University for her work on communication with people on the autistic spectrum and those with profound multiple learning disabilities.

Phoebe’s husband, Peter, died several years ago, and she lived in Bentham before moving to the complex in 2016. She has five children, ten grandchildren, and great-children ‘scattered round the world’.

Out to Grass, priced at £12, including postage, is available by email:, and also at The Folly shop, Settle, and Limestone Books, Settle.