Monday, 14 March 2011

Let Them Eat Cake...

I used to smoke. It was the eighties and everyone smoked and they did it everywhere. I smoked at work, in the pub even in a restaurant after a meal and no one minded because it was socially acceptable.

When the anti smoking campaign kicked in, I had absolutely no objection as it has been proved beyond any doubt that smoking is bad for you. It can in fact kill you, which if you think about it is the worst kind of bad for you that you can get.

What I do object to however, is applying the same kind of censorship to other areas which are not so black and white in terms of their effects on your health.

Take cake for example. I love cake. Granted it is not the best provider of nutrition that will pass your lips. It has a calorific content off the scale and more teaspoons of sugar than, well, something with lots of sugar, but I still love it. Women for centuries have baked cakes for their families; countless hours have been spent consuming it with cups of tea; English fetes award prizes for the best examples of it. It is a national heritage but no, it seems the health do gooders are trying to do to cake what they did to smoking – banish it from the face of the planet. And how do I know this? Because eating cake is starting to become socially unacceptable.

I have lost count of the number of people who tell me with some glee how bad for me it is as I about to impart a small morsel into my mouth. These are usually the same people who pick at a salad at lunch time pretending they are enjoying it and then eat a multi grain flapjack for afters. I bet they have good toilet habits.

I can actually feel the disapproving stares from other customers when I order cake for dessert in a restaurant as a ripple of disgust, or is that envy, washes around the room,

“Have you seen what she’s eating?”

Even the old office ritual of bringing in cake for birthdays is not what it was.

“Better not,” most say tapping their stomachs in a virtuous way.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind it if people don’t want to eat cake I just mind it when they don’t want me to.

So does eating cake make me a bad person? No, because like everything else, I do it in moderation and that after all is a much better approach to life.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Clever Storage and Reclaiming the Dining Room...

I dream of having the stylish interiors I see in Living Etc. I am often found pouring over a homes magazine or one of Kelly Hoppen’s latest books, obligatory glass of wine in hand visualising new interiors - all white and glass with the odd piece of natural wood thrown in for good measure. Clean simple lines with a random ornament here and there for effect. Possibly even lit with a low energy mood changing bulb and a lightly scented Jo Malone candle burning in the background…

But in reality it looks nothing like this. Our house looks like the aftermath of a particularly energetic robbery. There are things everywhere.

After a brief tidying up session in the dining room last week, Mini-Me had already re-infiltrated the space with her vast array of Sylvanian Families. Three more families had recently joined the ever expanding brood; a brood that had taken to camping at the end of the dining room, settling like a mini travelling community. They’d even got the caravan. And I don’t think an injunction served by the local council was going to get them shifted.

Word Was Getting Round About a Great New Camp ...

Is it possible then to mix normal family life with a designer interior?

My epiphany moment came when I realised that things don’t get put away in our house because they have nowhere to go. It appeared that the answer to my tidying woes lay in clever storage. (Have you noticed how editors always apply completely inappropriate adjectives; what exactly makes storage clever?) One magazine I saw recently claimed to have storage solutions to get your heart racing. I knew exactly what they meant.

Armed with a tape measure and an unwilling Husband, I set about marking out the room and making a list of all the items that needed to be found a home.

It seemed that we needed the equivalent of Dr Who’s tardis to house all of the items I was planning to buy a cupboard for. How come we never have anything to watch when at the last count we had over 300 DVDs? I also discovered CDs still wrapped in their cellophane, 4 old Next Directories and chargers for mobile phones I hadn’t seen since the last century. Still undeterred, we made a quick pilgrimage to Ikea and soon spied some full height white gloss monsters with hidden door handles. Perfect.

These have now been strategically placed around the dining room and lo and behold they actually do exactly what we wanted. By positioning shelves at the right heights for each item we have managed to cram in an enormous amount of possessions in a relatively small space. And nothing got broken in the move. Although we did have one hairy moment when Mini-Me was waving around The Husband’s prized vinyl collection asking “What are these black circles with the holes in for?” Who said having children keeps you young, although I suspect The Husband hasn’t moved that fast since his 3rd year Sports Day.

So now everything can be neatly stored away in its proper place, will this make us tidy? Probably not but at least I can get to the back of the dining room without feeling like I’m reliving Gulliver’s Travels.

Just the rest of the house to go….

Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Clarisonic Facial Brush and a Marketing Dream...

I am a marketer’s delight – the person that advertising agencies dream of. The one they have in mind as they sit around their white boards designing their next campaigns.

Why? Because I believe.

I believe that the latest shampoo/moisturiser/makeup range is the one that I cannot continue to live without; the one that once mine will enhance my life beyond its current dull existence.

Put these ads into a magazine and I believe them even more. A beauty editor’s write up is likely to have me scampering off to the shops, money in hand before I get to the end of the copy. Every year I pore over Instyle magazine’s beauty awards, checking off what I already own and making a mental list to purchase those I have yet to try out.

And whilst I’m old enough and wise enough to know that most claims do not live up to my expectations, I still continue my pursuit for the next miracle product.

So when beauty editors started to rave about a new face brush, I got the familiar urge to buy.

The Clarisonic is a new sonic facial brush that uses the same technology as a toothbrush to give your face a deep clean. It promises smooth, soft, clear skin. Not only that but I am informed that with all of the gunk removed from my delicate pores they will not only shrink into virtual non existence but will allow all of the expensive creams that I own to work much better. Wow! Sounded too good to be true.
The first major downside came with the price. At £155 this is an expensive replacement for a face flannel. But I am assured that the product is worth it. One editor’s husband apparently asking her how she had managed to put her make up on when he had just seen her leave the shower.

Luckily I had some money from my birthday so justifying the price was not a major issue. And anyway, wouldn’t this actually be saving money given that I would never again require a facial?

When the box arrived in the post, it contained some products (cleansers, moisturisers etc) that I immediately consigned to the bin and the brush itself, along with a couple of additional heads. The second downside which I hadn’t considered was that the brush head would need changing every month or so. At around £20 for a replacement head, this was beginning to become very expensive indeed.

The brush itself is quite large – larger than I had anticipated given that it needs to fit into the contours of your face. You can it seems take the outer bristles off to enable the brush to fit more snugly around your nose but to be honest I can’t see myself messing about with that every morning.

The controls are easy to use given that you just press start and the brush starts to rotate. You use it on your forehead first for 20 seconds, then you nose and chin for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds on each cheek – the brush beeps handily at each interval to let you know when to move on. Irritatingly though all of the controls are on the beep so you need a degree in Morse code to work out what each beep means. At one point, two weeks into use, I thought the brush had broken as it suddenly stopped working. Apparently the increasing number of beeps it had steadily emitted throughout the last few sessions were its way of telling me it needed charging!

The big question is though does it work? Well I can say that if I look really hard my pores are a tiny bit smaller and a couple of people at work have commented that my skin is glowing. I suspect though that this is more to do with following a routine – the brush is too expensive to justify missing a twice daily cleansing session – than the brush itself.

What it does give you is a feeling that your skin is clean as the brush is extremely satisfying to use.Like using its sister the sonic toothbrush you do get the impression that you are getting a really deep clean.

Would I recommend it? If you love gadgets and have £155 to spare then give it a go – there are plenty of rave reviews across the internet to justify a purchase. Personally I think Liz Earle’s cleanser and hot muslin cloth do as good as job.

But I can’t stop, I’ve just heard about a new eye cream that will take 10 years off me…

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Today I'm Loving...Shu Uemura Essence Absolue

  1. Is your hair dry and prone to breakages?
  2. Has it lost its shine? 
  3. Do you struggle to pull your brush through the tangles?
  4. Have you got a spare £39.50?
  5. Do you want to look like Jennifer Aniston?

Well ok it is expensive but if you answered yes to the others you are in desperate need of Shu Uemera Essence Absolue.

Traditionally the Geishas of Japan tended their hair with rich Camellia Oil to keep it soft supple and shiny. Shu Uemera have captured this oil into a treatment that nourishes and protects hair.

It can be used after shampoo and conditioner to protect your hair through styling and then as a finisher when hair is dry to soften and treat. This combined with my Babyliss Big Hair has given me soft silky hair with a great shine. It smells lovely too.

Don't use it at the roots though unless your want your newly coiffed locks to instantly resemble the bottom of a chip pan.

Chris McMillan, hairdresser and friend of Jennifer Aniston uses it on her hair to add gloss and texture at the ends and to give a smooth finish to her blowdry.

Hair like Miss Aniston's for under £40.


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Lusting After...Karen Millen SS11 Colour Block Handbag

There’s nothing like a good purchase to pick you up when you are feeling low.

If like me you’re struggling to find the right clothes to take you from one season to the next, why not make this the ideal time to invest in a new handbag? Darker winter clothes take on a whole new lease of life when you add a colourful bag and Karen Millen has one in their Spring Summer collection that I am totally in love with.

This gorgeous satchel style bag is an eye popping red, fuchsia and magenta leather with an unusual tassle feature. Its strong structural shape is very popular at the moment, think Victoria Beckham’s latest collection, and would be an ideal asset to a capsule work wardrobe.

Whilst it isn’t as roomy as my current soft leather tote, what it loses in interior space it makes up for in sheer wow factor.

Like most new season items advertised at the moment, it has yet to make it into the stores – their press department is on speed dial as we speak…

Monday, 7 March 2011

Try Something New Today…Maybe a Skirt by Gok Wan?

Sainsburys have just announced a new partnership with Gok Wan which will see clothes designed by the great man himself hitting the shelves this autumn.

The collections will reflect Gok's philosophy of making women feel confident, stylish and positive about their bodies, whatever their size or shape.

Gok Wan said: "I can't wait to get started; this is a first for me. While I've styled thousands of women over the years, soon millions of women are going to be able to wear something I've created."

Now I confess I like Gok. He’s like the cheeky best friend of your baby brother, warm, approachable and non threatening.

But whilst I followed every episode of his Feel Good Naked programmes, I have not had he same interest in either of the last two series. And this is largely to do with the “something he’s created”.

Even though Brix Smith-Start is incredibly irritating and looks like she could do with some style advice from Gok herself (and Nicky Clarke for that matter), she does have an eye for gorgeous clothing. Whilst Gok enthuses that his H&M jumper with bits of feathers sewn on looks just like Dior, it does in fact look like an H&M jumper with bits sewn on. And what will happen to most of these creations when they hit the washing machine?

Don't get me wrong, I like a bargain outfit as much as anybody but really, would anyone you know turn up at the school playground in some of his so called designs?

So I await his new collection with much interest. He clearly has an eye for style and I would hope that this would show through in well cut basics in neutral colours; classic yet stylish to flatter real women.

But this is Sainsburys where the average price is well below great cuts and good quality materials. Clothes that sell here need to grab your attention as you whiz around the aisles at breakneck speed. I suspect therefore we’ll see signature pieces and distinctive patterns that will define Gok and his brand. And whilst this may make for some great clothing at an affordable price do you really want everyone to know you bought your hot new top from a supermarket? That’s before you actually go out in it and see the world and his wife wearing the same thing. 

Whilst an allegiance with a supermarket certainly cashes in on his housewife appeal, I fear it will do little to make his designs credible in the world of fashion. Still, I will keep an open mind and watch with interest after all we do need to...Try Something New Today.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Today I'm Loving... MAC Girl About Town Lipstick

Peter Philips. International make-up artist and Chanel makeup’s Global Creative Director. What this man says goes and what he said this season was Fluorescent Fuschia Lips.

Fendi and Jil Sander both sent their models down the runway sporting neon pink lips carefully painted by the great man and his team. And what’s great about this colour is that it looks even better against pale skin – perfect for an English Spring. Application requires a perfectly steady hand and a crisp outline unless you want to look like you’re auditioning for the circus. Way back in the eighties this shade would have been “enhanced” with a much darker lip liner but the key now is to apply carefully with no visible outside edge.

MAC’s Girl About Town lipstick is perfect for this look taking the runway colour and just toning it down a little for everyday wear. Saves on the office sarcasm! Team with neutral eyes and clothes so the colours don’t fight and if you want to be really on trend clash with some hot orange nail varnish.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Life On the Open Road...

At this time of year my thoughts move to holidays. Like every year before it, I genuinely believe that this year we will have a long hot summer. And with perfect weather comes the belief that we can have perfect family holidays and spend the summer months camping.

“You hate camping” The Husband said when I brought it up over dinner.

True, the last time we ventured out under canvas was two years ago. The holiday started out idyllically enough. That was before the gale force winds that had even the most seasoned of caravanners hoisting in their awnings and battening down the hatches. The tent leaked, the camp bed was uncomfortable and we awoke every morning to condensation covering everything inside. Add that to the long walk every time I needed the loo or wanted to wash up or have a shower or brush my teeth and the whole camping thing became very tedious very quickly.

But I must be missing something as so many of my work colleagues spend their long hot summer nights outside, sipping wine, listening to birdsong and picking at delicious food cooked over a fire.

So I have concluded that it is not the idea of camping that doesn’t appeal, it’s the method we have chosen to execute it. Camping is obviously something we would love as much as everyone else if it wasn’t quite so basic. The answer is obvious - we just need to upgrade a little.

“You want a motor home?” The Husband gasped incredulously. “Do you know how much those things cost?”

Getting a motor home seems the ideal solution. It would be the perfect little home from home, giving us the camping experience without the hassle.

Determined to convince The Husband, who by now had retreated to the safety of the garage, I set about dealing with the problem as only I know how. Make a list.

So here are my lists of pros and cons to owning a motor home;


  1. They are so sweet inside; just like little doll’s houses
  2. We could take the dog on holiday. The Husband has pointed out here that we don’t actually have a dog but we could get one and take it on holiday.
  3. We could go on holiday more often. Well in about 10 years we could when we had finished paying for it.

And onto the Cons:

  1. They are very expensive. For the same price you could probably buy a small house in a foreign country. You may even be able to buy the foreign country.
  2. It would not fit on the driveway.
  3. Even the large ones are quite small inside.
  4. You have to pack everything away every time you want to go somewhere in it. Being an Official Untidy Person, this could be quite traumatic.
  5. It is too big for me to drive
  6. You can probably only travel 2 miles to a gallon.
  7. You would need at least 6 free spaces to park it anywhere.

So the motor home idea seems to have stopped before it really began.

And are we looking forward to a summer under canvas? Can’t stop, I just have to nip out and get some cruise brochures.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Today I'm Loving...John Frieda Precision Foam Colour

Like most women I have experimented with the colour of my hair. I have dyed my naturally dark brown hair a myriad of shades from darkest brown through reds and mahogany to blonde streaks. I once even dyed it black. This was however a complete accident as the box said mid brown. My skin is so pale I had to wear bright red lipstick and lost of blusher every day to not look like an extra from the Undead and even then I still gave Morticia Adams a fair run for her money. But I digress; the point is that I dyed my hair because I chose to -  like I would choose a different eye shadow or lipstick shade to match a different outfit.

This all changed a couple of years ago at Mini-Me’s birthday party. One of her friends was upset so I bent down to console her.

“My mummy has hair the same colour as yours” said one of the other girls.

I tried to picture the lady in question from the gatherings around the school gate.

“Has she?” I answered brightly.

“Yes” she replied smiling.

 “She’s got a big grey stripe down the middle as well”

From that point on I could no longer kid myself that dyeing my hair was a fashion choice. It has now been officially reclassified as Maintenance. Like waxing, plucking and shaving this is Something That Has to Be Done To Not Look Old.

Given that the product I choose now has to perform a function – i.e. cover the ever expanding stripe rather than just put a gloss of colour over the top, this has narrowed the choice considerably. For a start, I now have to go to the end of the shelf where the Permanent Dyes live. Semi permanents have no impact whatsoever on these little grey impostors.

The thing with permanent hair dye is that it does exactly what it says on the box – it permanently colours your hair which is a very scary proposition. Because if it goes wrong it doesn’t wash out. Ever. And that means you have to grow it out or pay a hairdresser to sort it out for you.

My Grey Stripe is Getting Harder To Hide...

I have tentatively tried a number of products on the market since the untimely outing of my Grey Stripe. Whilst some appear to lightly cover the offending hairs within a couple of washes their wiriness is soon poking out amongst their dark still coloured  friends. So it was with some trepidation that I tried John Frieda’s Precision Foam Colour.

What I have learnt, particularly after the Black Dye Incident, is that your hair is actually a couple of shades lighter than you think it is. So I chose shade 6N for my dark brown hair.

The mousse is extremely thick and easy to apply although it does have a strong smell of ammonia. The colour takes longer to develop than some on the market but the results are amazing. Strong, glossy, vibrant colour with no greys. And they stay hidden until they grow out.

I have now used this twice and the colour each time has been exceptional and very natural. Even my new hairdresser commented on it.

So for now, my greys are gone and my hair colour worries are over...until next month.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Today I'm Loving...Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage

Too much wine, lack of sleep and the stresses that come with Mini-Me do not good skin make. This is why I could not live without my Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage. I don’t tend to wear foundation often as it aggravates my dry skin, so this on top of tinted moisturiser is all I need to get me through the day. It hides dark patches, spots and broken capillaries with a stroke of a brush and no caking. Now no-one will ever know you had an alcohol and chocolate feast the night before!

But don’t just take my word for it; it gets voted as best concealer in the Instyle Beauty Awards every year.

So what makes this product so special?

Certainly not the price tag as this is a hefty £26. But as the old adage goes you get what you pay for and this is going to last you for ever, so the price per use is very low. And you will use it every day without fail. It’s that good. There is also a very handy mirror in the lid of the packaging so this is a very useful addition to your handbag in more ways than one.

The unique two shade system means you can mix the perfect colour for different areas of your skin; and the concealer itself is very thick and highly pigmented so a little goes a long way. Apply with a small brush for perfect coverage and set with a thin layer of translucent powder.

If it’s good enough for Sarah Jessica Parker…
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