Funeral yesterday

On 31st December I made probably the hardest decision of my life. Others supported the decision but it was my agreement that the doctor needed. Just over a week before my father had to sign a consent form for minor surgery in which he had to state ‘next-of-kin’. ‘Who did you put?’ I asked. He looked at me in surprise, ‘You of course.’  I sort of knew it would be me but I had to check just in case. After a week when I had seen my father’s health deteriorate on every visit I was faced with the reality that he wasn’t going to get well; the antibiotics had not done their job and his organs were rapidly failing. The last coherent conversation we had had was on Boxing Day and even that had been at times incomprehensive. Now I barely recognised the man in the bed to be the same one we had brought into hospital following a fall. The decision to withdraw treatment and just administer pain-relief may seem like an obvious one, but it was not an easy one.

No one could tell me how long it would be before he drew his final breathe. I went home to sleep thinking it would be sometime the next day, even the day after. At midnight I was driving home whilst fireworks illuminated the sky in the distance welcoming in the New Year. We were still up when the phone rang around an hour later and my sister told me, ‘He’s gone.’

When we planned the funeral we needed to forget those last weeks and concentrate on his life. Since her death he had greived for my mother and life had been difficult for him. She was the communicator, the organizer, the one who kept contact with the rest of the family. Luckily the family wanted to keep contact with him so that many of us discovered  a side of him we weren’t aware of before. I  helped organise appointments for him, deal with companies over the phone, take him shopping, and listen to his reminiscences, often about mum.   Although not a religious man his belief that he would one day be reunited with her gave him both solace and hope. Now, nearly four years since she died, I hope he has been proved right and she greeted him with, ‘Where have you been?’  RIP

Graham Whale 31st March, 1932 to 1st January 2017.

Tribute for Dad

Sonya and I would like to thank everyone for coming here today. When we were planning this funeral we both agreed we wanted it to be a celebration of him and his life. Many of you mentioned your memories of Dad in your kind condolences. Many of you have memories which reach further back than Sonya’s and mine. His life in Arley. His early years with mum. The moving to Cheltenham, leaving the village he continued to refer to as ‘home’ until the later years of his life. Since my mother’s passing he has returned to those memories. Many say it is not good to live in the past, but there are some positives. The argument between a teenage daughter and her father about wearing a bra under a certain blouse may seem trivial now, but through adult eyes the girl can see her father’s love and concern that was not evident in those angry words. We should not dwell in the past but we can find solace in it. The memories of holidays spent together. The times lunching in a country pub where Dad would often order ‘gammon and chips’ and when asked ‘pineapple or egg’ would reply ‘both’. I know many here will never see that item on a menu without thinking of Dad.

His sense of humour was from an era where comedians didn’t swear, at least not on television. He could be dry and flippant. He could be inappropriate. I remember a friend’s wedding where the vicar’s sermon was heavily focused on a third person in their marriage who they would welcome into their home. First we wondered if he knew something we didn’t, but the third person was ‘Jesus who is in all our homes’, to which my Dad exclaimed to us, ‘that’s who keeps leaving all the lights on!’

I hope you like the coffin. Dad was essentially a country boy at heart and, living in a town, fishing became his way of connecting with the countryside. He even gave up smoking branded cigarettes to buy a landing net. His claim that he gave up smoking at this time is undermined by photos of him holding a fish in one hand and a ciggie in the other. He did later give up entirely though. The image of him fishing whilst mum sits nearby reading a book seems so apt for today.

With such a statement coffin we didn’t want to cover it in flowers. Dad preferred flowers growing in the ground anyway. But the woodland basket reminded us both of Arley Woods where Dad spent most of his childhood playing.

Thank you to Richard for the reading, in which St Paul brings together the imagery of care-free childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood, whilst stressing the importance of love. Dad did not express his love verbally. At our wedding I hoped for the usual ‘wonderful daughter’ speech instead, Dad gave the results of a horse race much to the appreciation, and amusement, of his audience. Later I realised that for him to stand up in a roomful of people and give a speech was an act of love in itself, he would rather have left any talking to mum. Just because someone does not show you they love you in ways you expect, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. I know that Dad loved us all in his own way and that his love will stay with us in our memories.


Love, Love, Love

Performance attended 5th November, 2016 in New York

Within a few days of booking my trip to the states I discovered Richard Armitage was to perform in a play off-Broadway. Without even checking out this play I booked tickets. What follows is not a straight review of the play. It is now a week since I attended the performance and I want to record my memories, my reactions and my thoughts about the play, as such it will contain spoilers.

Prior to attending I did do some research. The title is taken from the chorus of the Beatles All you need is love. The play is the work of a British playwright, Mike Bartlett, it has already been performed on the West End (with a different cast) where it was well-received. Reports indicated that it spanned forty years and its main theme was the economic changes of this period. They also indicated play was a dark comedy. I have no disagreement with these reports but I became focused on another change I felt the play highlighted within this era.

I received an e-mail a few days before the performance giving details of how to find theatre and stressing late-arrivers would not be admitted till end of act. Whilst I know this is true of most theatres it stirred my paranoia of being late. We not only checked out location in day-light (heading photo taken then) but ended up arriving nearly an hour early! Staff were warm and welcoming and there was a small bar.

For once I decided to purchase a programme, I don’t know if this is standard in states but they didn’t sell them. Instead a free ‘playbill’ was given to us as we took our seats, this contains details of other plays and lists the sponsors of theatre. There are just half-a-dozen pages on Love, Love, Love with no photos. There is no background on themes of play or notes about the eras or even music credits. I did wonder how Americans relate to the play. The couple we sat next to were American but she had lived near London for eight years and they were frequent visitors to England. They were attracted by positive reviews in New York Times and came from Philadelphia to see play.

Whilst Richard’s name was listed first on cast list at top of stairs and in cast list in playbill, the former was listed alphabetical by surname and the later by appearance on stage. This seemed to indicate an equality of the actors. All their performances were brilliant and equally strong. This may not be apparent in my writing, but I have already expressed my bias.

Pop music from the 60s played whilst audience seated itself. I recognised all the songs from my childhood.

The curtain opened revealing a 60s living room with sofa and a portable TV perched on a truck in front of it, there’s a side table with portable record-player and a formica kitchen table. Kenneth (Richard Armitage) emerges from his bedroom, hair pulled forward, bare-foot, his style icon is more Mick Jagger than Beatles, as he’s wearing jeans and an open dressing gown which reveals his torso.  His movements are quick, restless, as he lights a cigarette and pours a drink from a ships decanter before turning on the telly and flopping onto sofa. His brother, Henry (Alex Hurt) returns home from work and their conversation mixes with their body language to tell us about their relationship. Kenneth is the younger, brighter brother who passed 11+ and is now at Oxford. Henry has moved to London and this is his flat, he works as a bill poster. Whilst Kenneth moves around whilst he talks Henry is static and still. Kenneth has landed himself on his brother rather than return to family home. Henry still resorts to the bullying of their childhood when words fail him, and although Kenneth towers over him his brother he is not yet used to his elongated body and visibly cowers to his threats. Henry wants Kenneth out of the way as he has a girl coming round. Kenneth wants to watch the multi-nation broadcast of Our World. (This took place on 25th June. 1967.)  Henry is bemused by the changes in society whilst idealist Kenneth embraces them, particularly the rise of the working class.

Sandra (Amy Ryan) arrives without the food she promised to bring. With her long blonde bob and A-line mini dress she appears to be a typical dolly-bird, but it was Sandra who asked Henry out. Sandra speaks in a neutral English voice which reminded me of my mother-in-law, who is actually Swiss-German but has been in England since 60s, like her there is a precision in her delivery as she declares herself a ‘free spirit’. Her interest in Kenneth is immediate, she stresses their similarities ‘we’re both 19’, ‘we’re both at Oxford’, ‘we both like pop music’ ‘we both smoke pot’. In fact, Sandra declares, she is already high. After Kenneth provides some ‘weed’ they both smoke whilst Henry declines. She despatches Henry to get fish and chips whilst encouraging the entranced Kenneth to find something they can dance to.  Initially attracted to Henry by his leather jacket she now realises he is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, she coolly forecasts her and Kenneth’s future and even Henry’s reaction to their relationship. It is their duty to be happy after all we could die tomorrow she declares. As ‘All you need is love’ plays from the TV they, at last, dance. Henry returns as they kiss only to walk out as Sandra predicted.

Act Two opens with music I have never heard before. Dancing around, bare-foot, in an 80s living room is a teenage schoolboy using a candlestick as a mike. This is Jamie (Ben Rosenfield) Kenneth and Sandra’s son. Kenneth returns with his daughter Rose (Zoe Kazan) who has been playing her violin in her school concert. Kenneth wears a smart suit and his hair is brushed back from his face. (Like many actors in the flesh Richard looks younger than on-screen, here he seemed closer to thirty-five than forty-five.) Rose is annoyed because her mother failed to turn up on time. Kenneth tries to relate to his son as a friend, but seems uncomfortable with his daughter. Although he’s proud of her and tries to be encouraging he forgets it’s her 16th birthday they will be celebrating and refers to her turning 15. Sandra returns wearing a red suit, which was similar to one I wanted around 1987. She is working full-time and was for late for concert, only arriving after being prompted by phone call from Kenneth, she ensures her daughter that she did see her perform and she was wonderful and should continue with music for her A’levels. This further exasperates Rose who declares that they discussed her A’levels two weeks ago! With two successful working parents the children attend public school. Besides the problems in their relationship with their children when alone the problems in their marriage emerge.  Once again it is Sandra who manipulates the conversation so that Kenneth’s accusations of her having an affair turns into a confession of his own affair. A twist underlined by his body and facial contortions as he realises his mistake! Meanwhile Rose is having her own relationship problems after Jamie repeats gossip about goings on at a party involving Rose’s boyfriend with another girl. Alcohol is used to help the adults cope with their problems. When Sandra declares they are not happy Kenneth retorts ‘Of course we’re not happy we live in Reading!’ Seeking normality he gathers the family for birthday cake. Jamie is encouraged to smoke and drink, feeling he is being treated as an adult he indulges. Eventually an unhappy Rose appears having argued with her boyfriend. A drunken Sandra brings in the lighted cake and Rose unable to blow out her candles on first blow is further annoyed as Jamie, childishly, blows them out for her. As Sandra serves the cake she announces her need to be open and honest with them, she declares the marriage unhappy and that they will be divorcing as neither of them wants to be unhappy. After all, she states, we can all die tomorrow! Kenneth looks crestfallen by her revelations, whilst Rose storms off. Jamie has slowly turned green throughout. As his parents rush upstairs to deal with Rose’s crisis Jamie puts the music back on as his face crumples into tears.

Act Three again opens with music I am not familiar with (honestly I have lived through these decades and am aware of most music).  The setting is an expensively furnished sitting room with French windows leading to a garden. Rose enters and wanders around the room continually pulling her sleeves over her hands. She is now a women. Jamie enters playing a hand-held video game. She tries to have a conversation with her brother whose exhibits problems of concentration and social engagement. He is holding down a delivery job whilst living with their father, who he describes as a mate. She is shocked they came to London but did not think to let her know. She has just come from the funeral of their Uncle, an event Jamie didn’t attend. An aged Kenneth slowly walks in, he has recently retired and is enjoying life, he’s carrying a funeral urn and is pleased to see Rose. There is still the distance between him and his daughter. He has little idea of her life and her monetary problems as he tells her about his 80 grand a year income. Sandra arrives a bit drunk, she has remarried but her husband is unwell and didn’t accompany her. She is there at Rose’s request. The crisis at the end of Act Two was Rose’s suicide attempt. Rose  outlines her life as a struggling musician, she is now thirty-eight, her boyfriend has left her for a younger woman who wants children. She accuses her parents of failing to support and guide her and demands they buy her a house. Neither Sandra nor Kenneth see her point-of-view and refuse. Exasperated she leaves to find Jamie. Whilst Kenneth wonders if Rose is right and they should do something Sandra reminisces stating ‘she saw her children standing on their shoulders and going further than them’. Kenneth isn’t listening, he is still attracted to Sandra and suggests they should, at last, travel the world like they wanted to do when they were young, after all they could die tomorrow! Amusingly he still has the old record-player and puts on ‘All you need is love’. Rose returns demanding a lift to the station to find her parents dancing absorbed in each other. Jamie walks in and smiles as he sits watching his reunited parents.

As I mentioned all actors are excellent in the play what I found usual though is that the two women’s roles were very strong parts. Another strength was the naturalness of the dialogue, which reminded me of Caryl Churchill’s play Top Girls. Unlike most plays were one actor speaks and another replies as if playing tennis, dialogue here overlaps, it’s interrupted, at times it peters out. Its delivery seems so natural that it is easy to overlook the skill of timing the actors require in order to delivery their lines in the correct place, there are no second chances on a stage.  The effect of this crossover conversations is to increase the awareness that characters, in particular Rose, are not being listened to. It also adds to audience connection, we’ve all been in similar family arguments at some time in our lives, and to the comedy. It may not come through from my above summary but this is a funny play that induces laugh aloud moments.

Although I could see, and appreciate, the social economic theme of the play I was more interested in the feminist aspect the play revealed. Sandra rides the crest of female liberation with ease. At a time when marriage was still the norm she selects a partner who will support her life choices. She puts her needs first, above her marriage and children. Realising she is unhappy she casually tears down the foundations of her life and rebuilds a life with a more suitable partner. (Kenneth has relationships but doesn’t remarry.) Believing herself to be a more liberal parent than her mother she raises her children without barriers whilst failing to meet their needs for security and support. I see echoes of Absolutely Fabulous’s Edina in Sandra; the same self-absorption, the same seeking for personal happiness, the same neglect of her children. Whilst the change in the economy has impacted on the young has the greater impact been the change of women’s position in society? Women not prepared to settle for the lives their mothers lead but follow their dreams and crave out their own careers.  Rose should be an inheritor of all her mother’s generation strove to achieve, instead she has pursued a dream that was unachievable. She has tried to live up to her parents expectations hoping for their approval. It is not only Rose that Sandra has failed. Kenneth wanted to be a travel writer yet his dream was undermined by Sandra. Conversely at the end of the play he is not unhappy with his life, ‘maybe we were lucky’ he mutters, maybe he was, maybe love is all you need, however despite telling their children they loved them their actions did not confirm this love.

Note. I remember watching Kenneth light two cigarettes by placing them in his mouth, lighting both and then passing one to Sandra. It was a common gesture in old movies and hinted at the shared intimacy between a man and a woman. With the demise of smoking I haven’t seen it for a long time. However, I can’t quite remember which Act it occurred in.  Act Two would make it a gesture Sandra ignores, whilst in Three it would reaffirm their relationship. Unfortunately I can’t go back and see play again but I would do as it is a multi-textural piece, with other themes I could explore further.


I had brought a gift from UK for Richard. For some reason I felt something was occurring backstage after the show (it was bonfire night in UK) and I handed it to usher for delivery. On leaving auditorium the combination of the large cranberry juice and the thought of a six block walk delayed our departure, so we were probably the last members of public to leave the theatre. Outside about forty women of various ages waited behind the iron hand rail. We walked pass and then paused. Seeing a waiting car I persuaded my husband to wait awhile. I had heard of ‘meet and greet’ and have met other actors, through usually one-to-one or at book signings, this felt different. Richard emerged wearing a base-ball cap which hid his face, he did not look into crowd. There was no Beatles hysteria or teenage pushing, the waiting crowd was respectful of both each other and Richard.  Richard spoke to a few members at front. I moved forward and did take a couple of photos but darkness of surroundings meant grainy images. The car door was open and I did not feel Richard was entirely comfortable. Maybe I should have brought him one of the new reflective scarves that prevent decent images of stars being captured when they’re out-and-about. I slip-slided away* without meeting him.

Walking back we discussed the various aspects of the play. My husband commented on the last Act when Richard came to the front near us and was staring into the middle distance whilst Sandra mused on the argument behind him, he startled when Sandra spoke directly to him. Recreating an instinctive body movement and making it seem natural can not be easy, it certainly impressed Chris.

Throughout the performance Richard had not just allowed his make-up and costume to convey his age but used his body and gestures to be; a keen, lively, gangly nineteen year old, a confident, successful forty year old and, finally, a greying, slightly stooped sixty year old. He was almost continuously on stage, his delayed entrances probably due to necessities of make-up and wardrobe changes.

A few days later we were in the Washington Museum of Modern Art looking at a picture of the late Marilyn Monroe. This had been taken by the late Richard Avedon, with her permission. She had just come off set from during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, instead of the vibrant Marilyn we are familiar with here she is drained of emotion, she is tired and vulnerable with no persona to hide behind. She has given her all to the take and has nothing left to give at this point.

*Slip sliding away is Paul Simon song released in 1982. It was not used in play.

Note. I am writing this at 4am in the morning as I’m suffering the effects of jet-lag. After all the time changes my body has decided my sleep time is 9am till 3pm, which at this time of year is main daylight time. The whole stateside experience was enjoyable but intense. I am really glad this play was a part of it.

John Lennon Through A Glass Onion

Earlier this summer I was reading through ‘What’s on at Cheltenham Town Hall’ and amongst the tribute bands, revival bands and comedians was a play that had been successfully staged off-Broadway, ‘John Lennon : Through a Glass Onion.’ Being of the baby-boomer generation I had grown up through the Beatles Era. I had even been taken to see ‘Help’ by various family members, my favourite song was ‘Hide your love away’, even as child the idea of keeping your feelings hidden resonated with me. In those days I would have named Ringo as my favourite Beatle, but I was only about eight and he always seemed happy. Paul was the good looking one, George the quiet one and John was a bit of a rebel. Over the years though it was John who interested me the most. Intelligent, controversial, outspoken, artistic, with a quick working-class wit and a tender side that comes through in his music. One of the simplest, raw-ish love songs I know is written by him, ‘Love is real’, and, of course, there is the idealistic ‘Imagine’. I booked two tickets.

About a week before the performance I was contacted by the box office to inform me the venue had changed, instead of the main hall it was now in the Pillar Room. This room is actually the bar area which can accommodate around 300 seats. I was surprised at the low ticket sales but this wasn’t the right venue. The play-going population of Cheltenham would be checking out the ‘Everyman’ or the Bacon theatre. Yet it had also slipped by the music lovers. Those of us who did attend had the luxury of being able to sit with our drinks and enjoy a more intimate experience than theatre normally allows.

There was no scenery yet we knew immediately we were in John and Yoko’s apartment in the Dakota Building in New York. Daniel Taylor, dressed in double-denim, round glasses and chewing gum, looked out at us whilst making observations about the ‘fan’ standing across the road. The only other person on the stage was keyboardist, Stewart  D’Arrietta. John reflects back on his extraordinary life taking us inside his goldfish bowl using the humour and self-deprecation that is recognizable from interviews. At times he flares in anger at; British racism, the press, even himself. Throughout snippets of music, played live by Daniel and Stewart, enhance the words giving deeper meaning to both.

Half-way through was a break and John exchanged the denim shirt for a khaki-green US Army shirt to talk about his peace movements attempts and his life in New York. He once famously said ‘life is what happens when you’re making other plans’ and the sense that he reacted to life rather than shaped it himself comes through in this play

Most of the audience were from the baby-boomer generation, including the lady next to me. She told me that she would have loved to have seen him live but never had the chance, now she felt she had. Daniel’s performance  not only gave us a chance to relive John’s music but gain a glimpse into an extraordinary life. The four bullets, that sealed John’s fate that night, close the play, turning the performance into a memorial.

At a time when the world seems further away from the lyrics of ‘Imagine’ than ever, maybe now is the time to resurrect that vision.


Beauty and the older Woman. Aging is a privilege denied to many. 2. Skin

Beauty and the older Woman.

Aging is a privilege denied to many.


The aging of our skin was not a topic of discussion by Dr Steven Shiel, whose talk at Cheltenham Science Festival was the starting point for these blogs. Most of his audience would have liked to know more, me amongst, so with some research, some personal experience and some observations I’ve put together the following.

Caring for our skin starts as soon as we are born. Within the first hour our skin will be washed to cleanse away its waxy coating called vernix casoea, which is mainly composed of sebum that is secreted from the baby’s gland from 20th week of pregnancy. It protects the baby’s skin from the fluid in the womb. Pre-mature babies tend to be less covered, whereas post-due-date babies tend to start losing this covering and their skin may become dry and flaky. It is also claimed to ease the baby’s descent through the birth canal, but that begs the question of why late birth would lose this lubrication. It has been suggested that this natural moisturizer should be massaged into the baby’s skin but that is not a common practise. The skin needs to breathe as much as the lungs and it removal ensures it can, it also allows doctors to check all is well.

Skin is comprised of several layers (up to 16). The top, visible, level is known as the stratum corneus or horny level. It’s actually a layers of dead skin cells which protects the young, live cells beneath them, and it’s waterproof. Cells originate at the basal level and ‘float’ upwards as they lose moisture and flatten. DNA stored here will ensure that the cells replicate as perfect replacements to the dead cells. This process of regeneration normally takes 28 days, but slows as we age. Other factors can also effect the length of this process. Damage to the basal level can result in permanent scarring. Below this is the dermis which contains the sweat and sebaceous glands. It is also where the follicles grow hair. It is composed of tough connective tissue, elastin and collagen, which is nourished by blood capillaries. Beneath this is a layer of subcutaneous fat that gives skin it’s springy, youthful texture. Lips are thin skin, only 5 or 6 layers, which lack the sweat and hair glands. Our lips tend to dry more easily. Our skin is remarkably good at repairing itself, but damage to the basal level can mean damaged DNA which will then produce damaged cells.

Our skin is constantly renewing itself and it is subject to change throughout our daily life. It protects us, it regulates our temperature, it even signposts our emotional state. We all know that when we get hot we sweat. In an hour’s workout we can actually sweat as much as 2 litres (nearly 5 pints). In cold weather we get goose pimples as our skin activates its primeval response to keep us warm by forcing our hair upward. This is not to be relied on as effective these days, most of us will need to don a coat. In some illnesses we sweat because the skin is acting to release toxins from our body as efficiently as possible, some treatments for illnesses used to encourage this by overheating the sufferer. Skin also protects toxics entering our system. I recall going to London and that night, on cleansing my face being appalled at the blackness of the cotton pad. Air pollution is damaging. So is the sun. Tanning is the skin trying to protect us from the sun, when it fails our skin literally burns which can cause long-term damage to the basal layer. Our skin works hard for us, even signposting when problems occur. Rashes, hormonal problems, liver problems, anaemia, diabetes can all be detected by looking at our skin, and help medical practitioners in their diagnosis of illness.

Generics determine how our skin looks and how it will age. I was tested in Boots a while ago to determine how my skin was aging, particularly whether there was signs of sun-damage, my results were good, except for my eyes. I have always used eye cream as I noticed my grandmother’s eyes were heavily lined. The creams have slowed the process, as I have fewer deep lines at a similar age, but they are still there. Apart from selecting good parents I don’t believe we can alter our DNA but we can care for our skin and delay the effects of aging.

Skin care is essential to help protect our skin and prevent pre-mature aging. I do not agree that young girls need the, more expensive, anti-aging creams before they are 30, but by 35 they should be considered as this is when the natural decline will start. Besides face and body moisturizing the giveaway areas traditionally are; hands, neck, eyes, elbows and knees, I would also add feet to this list. Tanning is one of the biggest causes of skin damage and can lead to skin cancer. Ever since Coco Chanel made tanned skin fashionable, in the 1920s, the belief that the acquisition of a suntan enhances our beauty is embedded in most of us. In my teens I tried to acquire a tan but I always used sun products to prevent burning. My one lapse was the back of my hands, when I was camping in England, which burnt without me noticing. Nowadays, my hands still tan quickly but I hope that’s the only long-term effect. Holidays aboard mean we subject our skin to stronger rays, and burning occurs quicker and without us realising till much later in the day. Hugh Jackman, the Australian actor, has recently had surgery for the removal of skin cancer from his nose. Many people have probably suffered sunburnt noses in the past after a day in the sun. Nowadays, hopefully, our awareness of the dangers mean we are more cautious for ourselves and our children.

Personally I am not a fan of sun beds I worry about long-term damage as well as looking orange, only time will tell their effect on your skin. In the 80s there was a travel programme called ‘Wickers World’ he often used to feature cruises with a lot of mature, wealthy American women whose skin seemed to have the look and texture of their expensive, tan leather handbags. Tanned skin thickens.

Changes to our skin occur throughout our lives. Hormonal changes not only effect teenagers but menopausal women. In my teens I discovered I had sensitive skin. I brought a light foundation and within half-an-hour I was washing it off due to a burning sensation. Originally I used French cleansing products. Parisian women do not wash their faces due to the harshness of Parisian water. Over the years I gradually moved to a well-known American brand whose ‘special offers’ required purchase of a skincare product. I didn’t have any problems until menopause when I developed rosacea. This condition consists of redness, flaky skin and white spots. Medical cream did ease condition but did not clear it. Although cause is medically not known I felt it to be linked originally to the hot flushes I experienced. I was also aware that cell damage, due to flushes, could result in permanent broken veins. HRT relieved hot flushes but rosacea remained. At my usual make-up counter I was offered, and brought, creams and concealers, but they did little to ease the condition. Three years passed and I was reading an article about beauty products that French women swear by, recalling French women’s skincare concerns and their devotion to good skincare I wondered if they had any solutions to my problem. I duly researched on-line, the products they named were available here, mainly through chemists, the French seem to trust their pharmacies for skincare purchases and many of their companies will only sell through chemists here. I nearly purchased online then discovered my local Boots stocked them. Within a week I noticed a difference and now it is nearly gone and I have yet to finish my first bottle. I brought their make-up gel remover, a light moisturizer and eye-cream. I have tried to avoid naming brands and products here, but I am so pleased with the results I want others to be aware of their existence. The range is La Roche-Posay, Rosaliac (*see below), I use the make-up gel remover (£12.50), morning and night. I also brought a beauty mask, from another French range, to calm my skin; Avene Antirougeurs Calm – Soothing Repair Mask (£15).

Another problem friends have experienced is sudden sensitivity. Skins which has been normal, or even oily, changes. Eye area can become particularly sensitive. Given my experience I would now suggest they look at La-Roche-Posey’s range and maybe chat with a skincare specialist in their local store. Be careful though as not all assistants are trained and probably know less than you do about the products.

Face skin ages before body skin. This is because our face tends to be more active than our body and lines form. By all accounts George Melly once commented on Mick Jaggar’s wrinkles. The rock star replied, ‘They’re not wrinkles, they’re laughter lines’. Melly retorted ‘Nothing’s that funny, Mick.’I couldn’t find date of quote but Melly died in 2007!Besides laughing, stress, smoking, squirting all contribute to aging our face. Squirting normally occurs due to failing eye sight so if you’ve never worn glasses you should get your eyes checked now. Smokers tend to crease eyes, against smoke entering them, and the action of drawing on cigarette causes lines at side of mouth.

Menopause means that skin, without the production of oestrogen, become drier and loses its elasticity. HRT does help improve the condition of your skin in texture and tone. Lips also become less plump at this time. Personally I have used lip moisturiser for a while now, but recently I have taken to ensuring I wear lipstick before leaving the house. It helps define my lips and protects them. I have worn lipstick through my life but it has rarely stayed on. The new ones recently produced by my usual make-up counter are much better. I know other brands have already developed longer-lasting ones. I did once try a well-known brand in hope sensitivity did not extend to my lips only to feel a burning sensation within seconds.

I found this test in a magazine to check the elasticity in your skin.

Pinch Test. * see below

Pinch the skin on back of your hand and hold for 5 seconds.

Let go and time how long it takes to return to normal.

Time ‘Functional’ Age
1 to 2 seconds Under 30
3 to 4 30 – 44
5 to 9 45 – 50
10 to 15 51 – 60
As you approach 70 (and beyond) the time is likely to be around 35 plus seconds.

It seems a big jump from 15 to 35 and I wonder if it’s due to the change in attitude towards skincare by women. Whilst my one grandmother used products to moisturize her skin though most of her life, lack of money meant my other grandmother didn’t, hence I thought the one was older than the other when, in fact, and there was little difference in their ages. My mother looked better than others of her generation as she used skincare products throughout her life. Hopefully, the availability of affordable skincare products will benefit us. Each year more products appear which promise to prevent further aging. At one stage products claimed to actually reverse aging but I see less of these nowadays, advertising regulations are stricter. The glamourous actress, Joanna Lumley, has recently revealed she has used ‘a £4 moisturizer made by Astral for 40 years’. No doubt Ms Lumley owes a lot to good generics, but she has also regularly moisturized.


La Roche-Posey website for further information.

The pinch test was one of the tests printed in The Sunday Times Magazine on 23rd July 2016, in an article entitled ‘Are you good for your age?’ It consisted of an interview with New York Dr Joesph Raffaele who devised test.

Quote by Joanna Lumley taken from Daily Mail site.

Image above is from Dove ad campaign of 2007.


Beauty and the older Woman. Hair

Beauty and the older Woman.

Aging is a privilege denied to many.



Hair literally grows all over our bodies but for the most part we tend to associate it with the hair on our head. Today I am mainly discussing the effects of aging to our crowning glory. Dr Steven Shiel, works for L’Oreal, specialising in hair care. I attended a talk he gave at Cheltenham Science Festival and many of the details, in the first few paragraphs, come from this talk. All opinions are my own. L’Oréal’s interest in this subject is a commercial one as without doubt the amount of money we are willing to spend on our hair makes the development of products to assist us very lucrative. Scientists are employed  to achieve a better understanding of our needs and create effective, safe products to meet them.

Brunettes, like me, have an average of 100,000 hair follicles on their head, blondes have 120,000 whilst red-heads have 80,000. The difference is due to blonde fair being finer than dark whilst red is thicker than brunette. Hair’s growing cycle is between 2 to 8 years, diminishing as we age. Its structure is quite complex. Each strand consists of three layers. Its innermost core is soft and spongy medulla. Covering this is the cortex which consists of long, thin cells that give the hair its elastic resilience and also contains the pigment for its colouring. The outer layer, known as the cuticle, is made up of overlapping scales to protect the hair. If you have ever pulled a hair out you may have seen a white bit at its end, this is not the root which remains under the skin ready to grow another hair. The ‘root’ is contained with a sac which, at its base, has a tiny nodule, called a papilla, this stores the nourishment to grow the hair. It is supplied by blood which carries nourishment throughout our bodies and this is why our diet, and our health, effects our hair. It is also why hair is used for drug-testing. Our hair can reveal a history of ourselves to a scientist beyond just DNA. A side note here; if a hair splits it will split all the way like a jumper unravelling, it needs to be cut above the split, this comes from a scientist who develops haircare products.

Hair colour is related to ethnic origin. For example, Scotland was predominantly red haired. Even now 13 percent of Scottish people are red-heads and 11% of Irish. Whilst ‘ginger’ has been traditionally mocked  in Britain in the states it is viewed as really attractive and sexy, by both women and men. It is also a difficult colour to create artificially. Blonde hair is basically achieved by removing the colour from the strands with controlled bleaching. Dark colours, by coating strands with colour and fixing them to it. Chemicals nowadays have been developed to create all shades of colour but your own hair colour can still influence the outcome. I used to obtain a decent red with a certain strength of peroxide, but regulation changes meant it was unavailable for home use and I ended up blonde. For the most part our hair is extremely forgiving of the treatment we inflict upon it. But a good diet, letting it dry naturally and indulging it with some conditioning treats occasionally should pay dividends in the future. One thing to avoid is the overuse of strong, chemical shampoos, especially anti-dandruff ones (no matter what they say on the bottle). I can not prove this but warned by my hairdresser I tried to persuade my husband not to use a popular brand of anti-dandruff shampoo when he didn’t have dandruff! He continued with the product arguing he needed it, nowadays, whilst he still has hair covering his head, if you look closer you can see scalp, its coverage is not as dense as his father’s at a similar age.

Why hair on your head has colour whilst often body hair doesn’t? Is not yet known. Or even why hair seems to grow to different lengths depending on its location again isn’t known. We do know that hormone changes, in our bodies, affect how (and where) our bodies grows hair. The reason why hair regrowth after cancer treatment differs from the person’s original hair is also not known. We are aware that the negative aging process for our hair starts at about 35 for both men and women. This means its density begins to decrease, regression of hairline begins and hair loss occurs, particularly for men. Our hair can also start to loss pigment. Grey hair is actually hair without any pigment. Grey hair is texturally different to the original hair.

Most woman can cope with these gradual early changes, it is the hormonal changes of the menopause which shifts things up a gear. Whilst I hoped for hair like Daphne Self (mature model featured on heading) as I grow older I am actually finding it has a greater resemblance to traditional depictions of Macbeth’s three witches. It is courser, drier, tends to fizz easily. I am luckier than others whose hair is thinner, lank but still manages to fizz! Around me people are chorusing to cut. However, my late ex-mother-in-law advised me that as you age you appear younger if your hair is longer, at the time of telling me I guessed her age to be over 10 years younger than it was. To be honest this perception has more to do with society’s expectations than your hair suddenly becoming shining, glossy tresses if left to grow. Long hair is just associated with younger, and often sexy, women. Whilst I did grow shoulder-length hair in my teens, mainly as a revolt of never being allowed to grow it as a child. Over the next few decades I had all sorts of short styles but never grew it long till I entered my fifties and missed a few hair appointments. I now prefer it slightly longer than shoulder-length. I will admit to ‘bad hair days’ when it’s too fizzy, it also needs more care, but most of the time I feel more confident with it being longer. It’s a personal choice but the belief that over fifties must have short hair is changing. Take care when tying back though. Being careful to use covered bands or better still combs, to avoid split hairs and breaking as hair growth is slower.

Medically, HRT helps with maintaining the condition of our hair due to our bodies still receiving those, naturally, decreasing hormones. If you are worried about hair loss please go to the doctor. At the best oestrogen tests will show if your body needs supplements to help it. At worst it can be a sign of other problems in your body like thyroid or kidney problems. Don’t just put alopecia down to aging,

Cosmetically there are so many products to treat our hair it can be confusing. Do you want shine or anti-fizz? Do you need the ‘mature woman’ shampoo or a conditioning for dry hair? It is too easy to be taken in by the hype and end up with a cupboard full of useless products. I have! Do speak to your hairdresser, they should have noticed the change and can advise. If you’ve never bothered before you will probably find the occasional deep-conditioning treatment beneficial, however you can do these at home. Just as you put face cream on daily you may find you need a hair cream product to just rehydrate your hair.

To dye or not to dye? Blondes can often blend the grey/silver hairs in subtly for many years before anyone notices they are grey. For many women skin colour changes will prompt a change of colour to a warmer blonde/brunette, whilst masking the grey is a bonus. Over the years I have dyed my hair but a few years ago stress caused my scalp to feel permanently itchy. I decided to stop dying in case problem was a chemical reaction. Happily everything is now okay but despite the visible grey hairs I have not returned to dying it at the moment. Again, this is a personal decision and I’m may change my mind. Colours are more varied now and with lowlights, and other techniques, less noticeably than in the past. However, my hair is less forgiving and is still aging. I suspect chemical enhancement is no longer for me.

Joan Collins is known to use hairpieces to enhance her glamourous look. For the recent ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ movie the lovely Joanna Lumley admitted Patsy’s famous beehive required a little ‘help’ to achieve. Several ladies I know in their nineties don a wig for special occasion. Others don stylish scarves or headgear. Hopefully, with a bit of TLC, we can keep our hair throughout our lives but at least it’s reassuring to know acceptable alternatives exist.

 This article relates to a previous article  I wrote on Aging Beauty. Many details are taken from a talk given by Dr Steven Shiel at Cheltenham Science Festival 2016. These are related in 2nd, 3rd and 4th paragraphs. Where ‘I’ is used the opinions are my own. In particularly Dr Sheil did not mention using anti-dandruff shampoos.

 Daphne Selfe. The 87-year-old model has written a book The Way We Wore about her ‘life in clothes’ (a memoir based on her diaries) and it’s out now. Daphne started modelling in the 1950s. A fashion editor she works for wrote;  ‘I can vouch for her wonderful, enthusiastic attitude  – and brilliant posture, achieved by doing her own version of yoga, every day.’  Daphne has said ‘I creak a bit but I do look after my health.’

Beauty and the Older Woman

Aging is a privilege denied to many.


I recently attended a lecture at the Science Festival. I originally booked to see Michael Mosly discuss this recent TV programme, and book, regarding using diet to reduce, or even prevent, the onset of type 2 diabetes. Then I saw another lecture being given at the same time, ‘Is Beauty Skin Deep?’ its subject was the effects of aging and its presenter was Dr Steven Shiel, who turns out to work for L’Oréal who sponsored this event. I decided to swop my ticket on the basis I haven’t got diabetes but I am definitely aging.

Of course we are all aging from the moment that sperm hits the egg and life begins. Factors like genes, our mother’s diet, their health, and the ability of whatever hardwires us causing cells to divide and form a foetus and then a baby, will determine what we look like. A great part of our probability of being considered attraction is therefore determined before we are even born.

As we enter the world we are already aging. Over the next fifteen years we will physically change; growing, developing skills, learning good (and bad) habits. When we hit puberty hormones kick in producing more body changes; acne, mood swings, skin problems, sweaty palms, breasts, dense hair in places where it was unnoticeable before. Physically we enter adulthood, even if the law still classifies us as children and most of us are in school.

Up to now we may have ignored our looks but now they become important. Dr Steven Shiel gave several survey results on the determination of attractiveness. These were mainly carried out in late 70s and early 80s so whilst results were interesting I do not know anything their data collection, other than one group was female and the other male. Personally I am always a bit wary of statistics, here the lack of nationality, age group, even sexual preference makes this a selective study. The results from this research indicated that men and women scored images of a woman’s attractiveness similarly, whereas there was no similar correlation between men’s scoring for other men’s attractiveness with the women group. More interesting was the survey where photos of women were taken during their ‘fertile’ stage and ‘non-fertile’ stage, here both men and woman judged ‘fertile’ women as more attractive. There were also shown of silhouettes of females dancing and again ‘fertile’ women were viewed as more attractive. In other words when our bodies are ripe for breeding we become more attractive. Unfortunately Dr Shiel did not elaborate on this. One point in body attractiveness that he did mention; women’s body attractiveness is based on the ratio between waist and hips and men’s on shoulder to waist. Hence, broad-shouldered heroes and heroines with tiny waists.

According to these results attractiveness is just about procreation. Theories based on our ‘stone-age’ survival instincts would argue that we want babies born to young, fit parents who will be around to provide them with a good start in life. In reality the world has rarely worked like that. Other factors have been important and beauty has been essential to women long before Cleopatra rolled out of a carpet at Caesar’s feet challenging the power of Rome with her beauty. In the western world, for many, beauty has been their passport for a better life. And not just Western culture, China’s only ruling Empress was originally a courtesan whose beauty attracted the aging Emperor. Other attributes were required for her to obtain power and keep it, but at least her beauty got her through the door of opportunity. Even now attractive people (of both genders) are statistically likely to have better jobs and be better paid. Many industries demand attractiveness either openly; modelling, acting, or covertly, Abercombie and Fitch sales assistants, plus many other customer face roles. Other professions may not require you to be attractive but it still opens doors that other, less attractive, candidates have to struggle with. By the way if you are tried for fraud, embezzlement or anything to do with conning people, it is better to dress down and leave off the make-up, attractive people get heavier sentences for these crimes. Conversely, for other crimes, they tend to get lighter ones.

Personally I think the peak of true attractiveness, for both men and women, is around thirty-five. Woman have lost that youthful bloom, which makes many girls pretty. Men, who are slower to develop than girls, have gained confidence, as well as broad-shoulders, and are often doing well in their career. That means from thirty-five onwards we’re all on a gradual decline, some more gradual than others. Hold that thought because I nearly forgot the ‘Sean Connery’ grossly unfair to women theory that men get better as they age. In 1989 People’s Magazine named Sean the ‘sexiest man alive’, he was 60. No doubt physically Sean was in better shape when he was 35, but male attractiveness is differently assessed to female. Most males can go on producing sperm to their last dying breath! Women have a time-clock ticking away that kicks in another hormonal change shutting down our ovaries making procreation impossible (medical intervention aside). If we look back at that early research indicating fertile woman were rated as more attractive the loss of this fertility occurs when many women report feeling ‘invisible’.

Most magazines tend to group beauty advice in age brackets, until recently the oldest was usually over 40, nowadays I have seen this extended to over 50s and even over 60s  (if health advice is included limit can be over 70s due to availability of medical tests). The main change that impacts on our attractiveness is the menopause; this is sometimes divided into three stages; pre, during and post. Like our teenage changes it effects; mood, skin, hair, confidence, body shape, even our libido. Debates about the existence of male menopause continue, men do change as they age but they do not have this hormonal change women experience.

Over the next few blogs I want to look at these various aspects of aging and whether we can actually do anything to retain our attractiveness (whatever level it is). The l’Oreal talk mainly dealt with hair but many of us wondered about aging skin. We wanted to know what is happening to our bodies and whether there is anything we can do. As we stand in front of mirrors with our mother’s face looking back at us, we recognise the importance of genes. My mother used to say that if you want to know a woman’s age look at her neck and hands, ever wonder why Madonna wears gloves all the time. Hand cream and neck cream are just as important as moisturizing your face.

We can’t stop aging but maybe we can prevent looking old, without resorting to expensive, invasive surgery.


Henry V was homosexual?

This snippet of information comes from  an interview with the Earl of Devon, (Charlie) that I read in today’s Times magazine.

He was visiting Westminister Abbey with his children looking for the grave of his a family member, Richard Courtenay, Bishop of Norwich, who had died in the siege of a Harfleur in 1415. They located the grave in the crypt, close to the shrine of Edward the Confessor. In the guidebook  it stated that Richard was buried under the step of the Henry V’s tomb, reading further he noted that kings jostled to be as close to Edward’s tomb as possible, which made the Earl wonder why his ancestor was so close to this esteemed king?

Later he had dinner with Jonathan Sumption, who is a Justice of the Supreme Court and a leading historian of 100 year war.  He decided to ask  if it was true that Richard was buried under the step of Henry’s tomb? The reply was no, followed by the revelation that he was actually buried in the tomb with Henry V. Henry and Richard had met at Oxford and become best friends. When Richard died of dysentery, in Henry’s presence, his body was sent back to be buried in Henry’s tomb to await the arrival of his friend. Seven years later, when Henry was buried, according to Sumption, they had to cut off Richard’s feet and shove him them under his armpits in order to fit Henry on top of Richard.

Taken from interview with Charlotte Edwards printed in The Times Magazine 9.04.2016

Wow! I did not expect the strong negative reactions I received from publishing above via fb group. I wrote above from article in The Times Magazine as I thought it was interesting and husband has habit of throwing papers/magazines away before I’ve finished with them. I should have made it clear that the link to homosexuality was made by the Earl of Devon, not me.

Henry V article

From The Time Magazine, published 9/4/2016, The earl, his castle and the Baywatch babe. Interview by Charlotte Edwardes

Here is photo of page from The Times Magazine. The comment was made in an interview which the Earl and his wife gave to promote the family home, Powderham Castle. The source of story is Jonathan Sumption,  who gave the information verbally  to Earl at dinner. Jonathan is one of Britain’s top barristers, He has a degree in History, obtained at Oxford, and is recognised as an expert on The Hundred Year War,  I can not comment on his sources,  as the story was informally given to a descendant of Richard’s, although I doubt if he felt the need to justify his claim at the time. However, I see no reason for him to have made up such a claim.

The Westminister Abbey  guidebook the Earl quotes states that body was under step. In October 1953 an excavation is said to have discovered the body in a tunnel.

In 1953 homosexuality was still illegal and the image of the Royal Family was protected. I doubt that if Jonathan’s version is true it would have been made public knowledge during this era.

A brief investigation into Richard Courtney confirms he was a close friend of Henry V, meeting before he became king. He was made Treasurer of the Royal household when Henry ascended the throne. He was also sent on diplomatic business to France. He also rose within the church and University of Oxford.  In such a patriarchal society close male friendships were common and should not be automatically linked to homosexuality.  Historians, and writers, studying this period are aware of the problems of identify such relationships when mindset, beliefs and social behaviour all differed from contemporary viewpoint.  However, whilst a shared bed may have been common practise a shared tomb wasn’t.

Whilst the Earl is convinced the story demonstrates the king’s sexual preference others are less sure. As someone pointed out Jonathan’s reply to the assertion is not known. The Times distances itself from the claim by stating, in subheading, the theory that Henry V was gay. In retrospect I would have been wise to do similar.