Friday 11 December 2009

Ho-Ho-Ho? Ha ha ha ..........

When it comes to homemade I'm right there on point....I make my own Christmas cards, knit gifts, make bath salts, pots of jam and bags of French lavender, 4 years at art college not wasted.........But that's not a patch on Kirsty Allsop's do-it-yourself Christmas. She's out of control, I mean honestly, gold-leafing fresh fruit to use as a place setting? I don't think so. The bonus fact was that you could actually eat it. So, after the turkey and the stuffing and the handmade chocolate truffles and the gold dusted mince pies, if you're still feeling a bit peckish, you can tuck into the apple that bares your name, written on a brown card 'travel tag', which apparently can be bought from any....'travel shop'. Really? Then there was the homemade cupcake candles and the hand crafted crackers, which apparently take 3 loo rolls to create that perfect look (who knew). And then, when all was said and done, the table laid, the candles lit, the sugar-frosted fruits piled high, Kirsty said.............this looks really nice.

I now have a big cold and a big Rudolph red nose, not a good look for the fun-filled festive party season. However, I did brave the blizzard and step out into the bleak mid-winter night to join in a bit of yo-ho-hoing. And jolly good fun it was too, once the meds had kicked in and the first drink was drunk. It was a big house full of media folk so there was much talk of 'the trouble' the industry was in. They had their very own cocktail bar, an inspired move. A groovy single Dad with Wayfarer specs and a beatnik beard had offered to shake and stir, it's what he did by profession as it turned out, and he was very good at his trade. All in all it was an excellent night out and not a gilded pear in sight.

Top tip: The all-in-one tubes of cold remedy really do get you through the night, especially with a cocktail chaser.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Magnetic Attraction

I haven't been sleeping very well recently: waking up in the early hours, brain on spin, wardrobe turned into a monster.....which I put down to the usual stuff: scarcity of work, lack of funds, Christmas coming. But apparently not. Apparently these are all symptoms of the menopause.

When, as a youth, I first heard about the menopause I thought 'whop-di-doo no more periods, bring it on', then I read the small print........... I mean, give us a break: hot flushes, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, weight gain to name but a few of the delights that await the aging woman. It's not enough that your body stars to ache and creak like an old leather sofa, hair greys and skin, there's the joy of menopause to look forward to, just for good measure. I mean, what's that all about?

I had hoped that by the time it was my turn to get irritable and fat there might be some sort of implant, a chip in your ear that just magicked it all away perhaps, but then I'm still waiting for the much promised silver suit, jet pack, lunch in a pill and the 3-day week.... So, with HRT off the menu due to health and safety, what does one do?

I have a friend who smokes. Openly and with relish. She is 53 and she firmly believes smoking relieves the symptoms of the menopause. She is collecting anecdotal evidence. Well that's her theory so she won't be giving up anytime soon. Another friend advises: wear layers and take Evening Primrose oil. I've tried Evening Primrose oil and felt not a thing. Take it for longer, she said. How long? It's expensive stuff when you add it to the endless carousel of supplements advised for those on the home stretch. Get a magnet, said a third. A magnet? A magnet. A Ladycare magnet, to be exact, is in fact 2 small magnets that fix together, one inside, one outside, your knickers, just below your belly-button. Wear it all the time, she says, it worked for me.

I imagine myself adhered to the fridge door by my pelvis, inexplicably drawn to railings and fast moving cars, cutlery flying round the kitchen like a scene from Carrie. A menopausal magnet? It may sound like pants but I've bought one anyway so we shall see.

Top tip: Put thermal innards in your shoes and make those kitten-heels cosy.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Getting The Christmas Party Started

Shirley Bassey is brilliant, it's official. This week she's been everywhere promoting her 'must have' new CD, 'The Performance' and it's going straight to the top of my Christmas list. Alan Yentob's 'Imagine' profiled her and was so absorbing I just wanted it to go on and on but it was her appearance on Graham Norton that stole my heart. She was hilarious and stunning in equal measures with apparently boundless energy for a woman of 27 let alone 72, and an infectious naughty streak. I don't think I've ever seen her interviewed before but it wasn't what I was expecting. In the 'Imagine' we got to see her working on the new songs for the CD, written by an eclectic mix of the good and the great from the Manic Street Preachers to KT Tunstall. Each was given the SB treatment and magically transformed before our very eyes.

Which is all rather marvellous because I shall need something to raise my Christmas spirits. This year the son gets to do the Continental with his Dad and with cash severely strapped there'll be no beach action for me so I'm being the good daughter and going to see my mother. Normally I don't. My brother (divorced and childless) does a very good line in Bah Humbug and so I could imagine us sat in a darkened room, an unlit fire, slurping a bowl of gruel.........actually it's not that bad, well hopefully. I am attempting to embrace the countryside in all it's festive glory, go to the pub and cheer on the Boxing Day charity fun-run and so on. As luck would have it, a good friend of mine is appearing in pantomime at an almost local theatre, starring along side Julian Clarey, he will give us his ugly sister, and we're all going.....oh yes we are!!

Top tip: Mineral powder foundation, easy and quick to apply, defies wrinkles and leaves you with more time to party........

Tuesday 17 November 2009

I know it's only rock and roll.....

The thought of going out on a Friday or Saturday night holds less and less appeal in London. When once the weekend was looked forward to with eager anticipation, an endless sea of hedonistic pleasures, now, the streets where I live start to fill up early with packs of eager young ladies, scantily clad (why is it the bigger the girl, the smaller the outfit?), and totally up for it. Burly bouncers stand po-faced rocking on their Doc Martens outside the once humble pub, checking the lads who shuffle about in the cold night air, violently sucking in the smoke, puffing out their Clearasiled cheeks, rummaging in their condom stuffed pockets for their ID. Anything over 35 heads for home, by 9 the streets are deserted of all grown-up life, herded on by the youth police, "Move along there's nothing for you out here." A few brave the dark and scurry off to the theatre or a restaurant, the natural home of the mature, but otherwise Friday and Saturday nights appear to belong to the young.

So it was with some trepidation that last Saturday night I went to see a band. It was cold and wet and very windy but the venue was only round the corner and the friend of the friend was very keen to galvanise the troops, so, fuelled with a couple of vodka tonics, off we went.

Outside the north London cellar, teenagers with cigarettes and mobile phones thronged. My initial instinct was to tell then to put their coats on and although we looked more like parents there to pick up children, with hands stamped, we descended the stairs into a small basement room. Beneath Highbury we discovered a hot, dimly lit bar reminiscent of a Paris club or East village haunt. Boys with full beards (what is that about?) and girls in silky scarves and bits of black lace (reminding me of my own college days) mixed with a number of balding, bespectacled men of a certain age, two with pony tales and one in a navy blazer, all lurking in the gloom.

We found our party and ordered drinks at which point the band came on stage, more a sort of platform really, and to my great joy, they were older than me...... Anyway, they were very.....enthusiastic and quite entertaining in a Lobster Rock sort of way and, after the second vodka and much posturing and posing by the lead singer, we were cheering with the crowd. The man with the mic turned out to be Valentine Guinness, as in the famous pint, and the band was The New Forbidden. We were standing at the bar which, because of the size of the venue, was also the side of the stage, when suddenly Valentine careered towards us and started pointing. At me. I don't know what the lyrics he was singing were but I only hope they were complimentary...........The biggest shock though was when he introduced the band. "On lead guitar....Loyd Grossman"!! Is it only me that didn't know that Loyd 'through the keyhole' Grossman by day is a rock God by night?
I mean, who'd have thought..........

Top Tip: Never leave home without Bach Rescue Remedy

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Fa-Fa-Fa-Fashion ...... beep beep!

The phrase, 'at least I've got my health' is becoming less and less of a joke these days. Last year 4 of my friends were diagnosed with cancer, in less than 6 months: 2 breasts, one skin and a throat, and he didn't even smoke. They were all 48 and are now all in various stages of treatment or recovery but their much hoped for clean bill of health seems to be a bit of a lottery, as much to do with luck as science. Looking death straight in the face certainly puts the onset of old age in perspective. While I bemoan the fact that this time next year I'll have reached a half century, my oldest friend, from junior school no less, embraced her 50th last week with as much gusto as her medically-battered body could muster, and is very much looking forward to her 60th, when she is better. She can't wait for her gray grow back, the spread of middle age to cover her emaciated frame and the crapey chemo-skin to give way to the wrinkles of old age because old age is something that may not be hers to bemoan.

The Sunday lunch celebration was planned, and I wondered what I should wear and then I realised I have nothing to wear.........or at least nothing age appropriate. Can I still wear skinny jeans and converse at 49? Is my Diesel dress too 80s for my own good? If you can remember wearing it the first time, should you be wearing it again? Apparently not, according to my cousin. But surely if you can still fit into it......I don't feel old so do I have to dress old? But what's left? Do I abandon my twisted denim skirt for something more sensible in tweed with a twinset and pearls.....well yes if it's a Vivienne Westwood twinset. Now there is a woman who knows how to fly in the face of convention. She has never even seen the rule book let alone made any concessions to it and yet her designs have revolutionised the way we all dress. So when does trendy become tragic? When you hit 40? Or 50? Or was it 35?

Thus, when asked to entertain my unwell friend's two half term-holiday daughters of 11 and 13, and with a view to over-hauling my wardrobe, I took them shopping. However, the best laid plans and all that...... the 13 year old is the image of her mum at that age and all the clothes on offer in Top Shop appeared to be exactly the same as when we were teenagers, my personality defining fashion era. I gleefully grabbed at a little sequined jacket, shiny leggings and fluffy, off-the-shoulder sweaters, floaty bits of Bibaesque chiffon, sparkly hair bands and flowery smock tops, to the sound of their raucous giggles and chants of 'no-way, you can so not wear that' and well.....they had a point. So it was, with eye-rolling ecstasy, that I was dragged, kicking and screaming, away from a Kate Moss shoulder-padded, diamante studded sweater, and relinquished the opportunity to conduct a requiem for my youth.

However, layers of cashmere in subtle shades of grey aren't really my thing and I've never been able to pull off the groomed look, I'm more of the second-hand rose with a dash of designer label: Doris Day meets Patti Smith by way of the thrift store. There was nothing for it but to get back in the closet and retrieve the skinny jeans and biker boots, a bit of Top Shop chiffon and a Luella Bartley cardie with her bat motif to amuse the children. It may not have been chic but the look went very well with roast chicken and anyway, life really is too short to worry about what other people think.....

Top tip: To keep young and beautiful, start the day with a mug of green tea.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Some Like It Hot

London is not for everyone, granted, but I reckon if you can't handle the heat, stay out of the city. There is nothing worse than a neo-countryite taking a day-trip to town and then complaining about the cost and the crowds and the buses. They're our buses and only we can complain about them, we know they're too hot and too crowded and we hate the bendy-buses but they do, eventually, take us to some of the world's greatest galleries and museums, theatres and restaurants (even if they are prohibitively expensive). Plus, if I want to go kick coloured leaves in the autumn sunshine, I can in Regents Park, or Hyde Park or on the glorious Hampstead Heath. I can row boats on the Serpentine and eat ice cream on the South Bank, all within spitting distance of obscure Oriental underground films, cutting-edge, prize-winning art and every variety of Balsamic vinegar known to man. I live here despite the hardships and expense because, right now, there's nowhere else in England I want to live. And the onset of middle age has done nothing to change that. However, I know a number of people who have made the momentous decision to up sticks and move to .....the sticks. And well done, good for you, hurrah there's more room on the god-awful bendy bus, I applaud your choice. But, I do not need to be told every ten minutes why it was the best thing you ever did, should have done it sooner, and oh what a dark dangerous place London is. Because actually it's not. You know you'd be back in the city in a hot second given half the chance.

I never have to bang on and on about how wonderful the place I live in is because it's very name carries sufficient cache without any embellishments, as in Paris, New York, Rome, we all know what's missing. I think the older I get the more the city has to offer. I may have made room at the bar but there's still plenty to do out there that doesn't involve an illicit deal and a glow stick. Neither do I feel the need to slag off Brighton, or diss Diss, or go on endlessly about the joy of Gloucestershire's Daylesford Organic farm shop. . . . .and anyway, I can buy muddied vegetables every weekend in a school playground only 5 minutes walking distance from my graffiti tagged doorstep. No, I respect anyone's decision to call it a day, cancel the subscription to Time Out, give up their Oyster pass and go native, just please don't feel the need to share it with the rest of us. To misquote Samuel Johnson; when you are too old for London......

Top tip: Check out the website for The Union Chapel for an excellent London night out.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

The Art of Drinking

Old age and alcohol can be a tricky mix, hangovers become more painful, the recovery period longer and longer, but the need to celebrate to the sound of corks popping, and the desire to curl up on a cold evening with a glass of red, does not diminish. So now I try to think before I drink. The consumption of vast quantities of water is a must and headache pills are popped before bed, a necessity to ward off certain misery in the morning. But, with the passing of the years, like most things that were once fun inebriation holds less and less appeal. However, I did get drunk twice this week, once by accident and once to celebrate a birthday, one resulted in the loss of my reading glasses, the other in buying a Tracey Emin print.

The pale pink lychee martini seemed such a good idea at the time, sat as we were in the winter sunshine on the roof terrace of a fashionable members club. Indeed, what better way to say 'happy birthday', and they were delicious. Then it was off to the Zoo Art Fair, billed as 'a considered introduction the next generation of art professionals' and the Eastend's answer to the Frieze. Now, it just so happened that only last week I was bemoaning the fact that despite going to art college, and being a keen visitor to galleries and exhibitions, I didn't own a piece of original art. I would turn 50 without owning a piece of original art and that was just wrong, and what I'd really like to own was something by Tracey Emin, whom I love, but that could never happen now because it would just by way too expensive. And then I saw it, on the White Cube stand, a Tracey Emin print nestled between an Anthony Gormley and a Gary Hume, we weren't even going to ask the price, safe in the knowledge that whatever it was it would be too much. But, fuelled with the near neat alcohol, we did. '£300' came the reply, at which point I said, 'Really?' and the chap said yes, so I said it again...... and again, and I think he was about to call security when me and my friend whipped out our credit cards and bought one each. Apparently Tracey, top woman that she is, wanted to do something at a price people like me could afford. So, while Damian, Gary, Gavin etc were all on offer with a few extra naughts, there was our Tracey, up for grabs.

So, becareful what you wish, I bought number 50 of 200, a sort of early birthday present to myself and now I carry a postcard of my new purchase, proudly showing it to family and friends. Now if I could just find my glasses.....

Top Tip: Jo Malone's divine bath oils work really well as 'perfume', last for ages and are much cheaper.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Tune In, Drop Out

It's official, I'm addicted to Treatment and when it finishes I'll need treatment to get over it. I speak of course about the brilliant new TV series on Sky Arts 1, In Treatment, with the delicious Gabriel Byrne dolling out a daily helping of therapy finishing up on Fridays with himself on the couch, while the divine Dianne Wiest, who incidentally seems to have taken the road less travelled where nips and tucks are concerned and looks all the better for it, nods, smiles and raises the odd eyebrow with ease, in a face devoid of botox, as she tries to help Paul deal with the unwanted love of a patient. There was certainly a bit of erotic transference going on, on my sofa, have you seen Gabriel Byrne recently? He just gets better with age. Which is great, who needs to go out when you can snuggle up on the couch with Byrne as your virtual boyfriend? Because despite the yoga and the green tea and the goji berries, with age comes exhaustion. It seems like only yesturday that the daylight hours where just a prelude to going out time, but not anymore, it takes a real effort and to be quite honest going out on a cold, wet night holds little allure especially when the weekends are dominated by the 24-hour party people hell-bent on hell-raising. It's as if there's a forty-something curfew round my way, the old folk over 39 are rounded up and herded off the streets to make way for the fun. 

However, last week, despite a plethora of top telly, I made a lot of effort and went out quite a bit on the more age-appropriate nights. So, on forty-something friendly Tuesday, I went to the book launch of a friend of a friend I didn't know. An ideal opportunity, I thought, to down a couple of free glasses of wine and mix and mingle with total strangers, you never know who you might meet. Unfortunately, I met a woman I hadn't seen for years, and with good reason. She is not what you'd call 'a girl's girl', talking to her is not conversation, it's the divulging of information, she fixes you with her beady blue eyes and extracts facts that may be taken down and used against you at a later date. I didn't want to talk to her so pretended I hadn't seen her but it was too late. She came through the crowd like an Exocet, despite being 10 years older than me age cannot whither her, whippet thin she moved at speed. With nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide, there was nothing for it but to throw back my head and whoop in surprise, fling my arms around her and exclaim 'wow!' Where upon she took off her coat and announced she'd be staying longer in order to interrogate me about my life and loves and the state of everyone else we had in common. And she wouldn't let me go which meant I had to stop making eyes at a wine stained dandy I'd quite fancied, a sort of cross between Hugh Grant and Boris Johnson called Willy, which, with hindsight, probably wasn't a very good idea. So perhaps I should be grateful that I didn't succumb to a third glass of wine where upon I would undoubtedly become a social embarrassment.
But, despite my abundance of nightlife, I missed none of my favourite TV shows because of the joy of Sky Plus, where with the aid of one button even I can ensure entire series are gaily recorded without fear. However, with new technology comes new problems, and I've now developed Sky Plus anxiety, an excessive amount of pre-recoreded programs I'm unlikely to ever get through, causing panic and stress and resulting in the need for therapy.  Thankfully I'm already in Treatment with Gabriel Byrne. 

Top tip: Body brushing, it takes a few minutes a day and the results are amazing, banish bing-wings forever!!

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Zen and the Art of body Maintenance

My body is not working quite the way it used to, subtle changes have been occurring over the last decade..... or two. Age creeps up on one slowly and not just from behind, unfortunately, there are things that have gone south for the winter that are never coming back. Plus, there's the softening of the jaw-line, a sagging of the elbow, the creeks and groans that accompany most movement and which make one sound like a Spanish galleon about to set sail every time one tries to leave the sofa. So, with the on set of winter and the long, drawn out evenings with nowhere to go but the kitchen for a fatal forage in the fridge, I have become increasingly concerned about health and safety on the body front. It's all about maintenance now. Like an old car, you need to tinker constantly with what you've got because if something falls off you're in big trouble, they don't make body parts like these anymore. And so, I've gone back to yoga. This summer I packed the sarong and headed to Ibiza, not to dance in the foam, but to do the downward dog with a back-drop of Benares beach and the rock of good vibes, under the instruction of the whippet-thin 53 year old, Kahti, which was quite brilliant and inspired me to want to do more.
Then, when I got back to the smoke, full of bliss, I bumped into a delightful woman of 68 who I used to see at a class I went to 20 odd years ago (note: the universe will provide....) We talked of tans and yoga and she said about half a dozen from the old class were still standing on their heads, at the teachers house, and I should come along. So I did. Our teacher, The Zen mother, is now 70 and looks amazing, the others range from 53 to 86 and so I am, as they like to call me, still the 'baby of the class', which suits me absolutely fine.........I thought it would be fairly low key with quite a lot of relaxation, but no, it's really hard and right now my bum may look smaller in this, but it hurts. They're hilarious and inspiring in equal measures and have been doing their weekly class together for over 30 years, swapping funny stories and tales of their children and grand-children between postures. They really are quite brilliant, and bendy, and I want some of that.

So, a feeling of well being is hovering about me which, on a day as dull as today, is just what you need. I really can't see myself sitting out my dotage on this damp island, not when there is much better weather to be had elsewhere. My son's father is currently residing in Barcelona where apparently, it's really hot. Living somewhere 'really hot' seems like a jolly good idea right now and if it wasn't for the fact that The Son, who has finally returned to higher education (hurrah!) is living with me, then I might go somewhere really hot too. But for now, Pranayama anybody?? 

Top tip: Waitrose Baby Bottom Butter makes a brilliant night cream when used a couple of times a week.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

How old??

I was mooching around Spitelfields Market the other day and a girl approached me and said, "Excuse me, do you have a minute? I'm doing an article for The Times about what it's like to be 40 today." I looked at her for a moment, trying to work out what she meant and than I laughed because I'm turning 50 next year. She apologised and said I looked great at which point I think I levitated, so happy was I to be thought of as a mere 40, a number I once feared. But that's nothing to ........I can't even say it.

I can't believe I'm 49. How did this happen? I feel like I'm only just getting started and now I've passed the half-way point and to be honest I'm not that happy about it because although I didn't exactly have a plan, I didn't plan this. I sort of thought growing old would equal growing up, with a proper husband, an ordered life instead of youthful chaos, holidays abroad and the joy of Radio 4's 'You & Yours'. But no. Instead of a blue rinse and sensible shows, I'm a single woman in skinny jeans and biker boots, crying into my Argentinean Malbec over the ex-boyfriend like a love sick 18 year-old, while my girlfriends run round with the roll-ups and lists of internet dating sites. I compete with the likes of my teenage son for tickets to festivals and the chance to spend three days in a damp field in some far-flung corner of England, dancing with my arms aloft because while Patti Smith and Annie Lennox are still at it, so too am I. 

In my head I think I'm about 25, it's just the body that has gaily gone on maturing. So just when you think you've got a handle on life, made enough mistakes to learn a few tricks, your knees give out, your back goes and you can't find your glasses. Another birthday used to mean another notch on the ever-expanding belt of middle age but not any more. Old bodies don't need to get bent out of shape while there's yoga and pilates and even yolates......don't ask......and although getting off the sofa is often accompanied by various creaks and groans, I can still do the downward dog, which is all that matters. 

The generation who sold us sex and drugs and rock and roll said we'd die before we were 30, a promise they failed to deliver. So, how does a girl proceed into her 50s? I don't feel I'm done yet and with Madonna and Kim Cattrall blazing a youthful trail, can women of a certain age still dance under the stars and shop in Top Shop?  Or are we deluding ourselves? This was never in the manuel........

Top tip for what to do with the very expensive leather handbag the ex-boyfriend gave you, that you don't want to use but just can't dump: paint it black, with shoe dye, and it's a brand new bag. Unless it's already black, then just get over it.