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.

Researching Medieval Travel for ‘Duty Binds Us’

1190 – 1210

I am in the process of writing the sequel to my medieval romance. Within the novel I have three different journey that I am presently researching. There are two other journeys but I’m not yet concentrating on these, they may even just ‘happen’ with no great detail.

As with any journey the main questions are; How far is it? How long with it take? How do we get there? What problems are likely to occur? And, where do we sleep at night? Just stepping back to consider problems. The weather would have had a greater effect on travellers than it has today as they would have been more exposed when travelling. The terrain would also differ, roads did exist, the Romans had built some of them, but their conditions varied. Dirt roads would have dusky in summer, muddy when it rained and icy in the frost and snow. Many would be surrounded by forests and possible attacks from robbers, hence need for protection when travelling.

party ridingThe first journey is from Anjou to England. The destination is a fictitious place called Westbury, but as a guide for distances I’m substituting Warwick. Isabel, who is thirteen, has to travel from her home to the castle of her betrothed. Her uncle, who has the duty of accompanying her, has just returned from the Holy Lands arriving back in France in August. The journey involves crossing the English Channel, or the Narrow Sea as it called in this period. He will, of course, have to cross it twice as he, and his wife and retinue, will return to France. Besides knights, and their squires, Isabel is to be accompanied by three ladies to attend her and her aunt with also have ladies. Isabel will have trucks containing dresses, her dowry and linen so wagons will be needed. The ladies will ride pillion behind squires, few ladies rode astride. Would they take household servants? Unlikely as they aren’t setting up a household on arrival and would stay at castles, and other establishments, on route. Party consists of about 20 to 30 people.

Breakdown of first journey.

First leg will be from Anjou to port. Anjou’s capital is Angers, but I felt Isabel’s home would be further north. This may change with further research. For their destination I have selected Barfleur, which was a popular Norman port in this period. It is far north to make the crossing as short as possible. Distance from Angers to Barfleur is 367km or 228miles.

cogSecond leg is actual crossing. For landing I looked at two options, Lyme (later to be called Lyme Regis when Edward I gave town its charter) and Portsmouth which was popular with both Richard I and John. Lyme was too far west. Distance to Portsmouth is approximately 80 miles of sea crossing.

Third leg will be from Portsmouth to Westbury (Warwick), approximately 128 miles.

Total distance will be around 430 miles.

Timing and length of journey

Journey will commence in September. They would not want to travel through winter if it could be avoided due to shorter daylight hours and risk of bad weather.

Party consists of 20 to 30 people with wagons.

Depending on conditions, the average distance a wagon drawn by horses would travel a day is estimated to be 20 miles.

Therefore, the first leg of the journey should take 11 to 12 days.

Arriving in Barfleur in the middle of September.

Ships were very dependent on the wind and if it was in the wrong direction a journey could be held up for days. There are trade ships which will take passengers, but it is more likely the uncle will hire a ship. He has horses and wagons to be transported. The alternative would be to unload, send wagons back and hire, or buy, replacements in England. It is likely that a friend, who has lands in England and France, would recommend, or help secure, a suitable vessel.

Average speed is 4 to 5 knots, or 120 nautical miles, a day (a nautical mile is about 1.15 mile). Therefore the crossing should not take longer than a day. Time will also be taken loading and unloading so minimum of 3 days for this part of journey.


Back on dry land the final leg will be 6 or 7 days.

Total time approximately 21 days, but allow up to a month.


Isabel’s second journey is from Westbury to Winchester where King Richard will be re-crowned. She will not be allowed to go to ceremony but she will be able to see her betrothed. The party is a relatively small one; Lord and Lady Westbury, their two sons and a couple of ladies, plus a half-dozen household knights and nine squires. A party of 22 persons. The ladies will be riding pillion and there will also be a couple of pack horses for processions and presents.

Timing and length of journey.

Date of crowning is April 17th.

Horseback riding is subject to many variables. Henry I confounded King Louis of France by riding long distances in short time, but he was able to change horses. In general horses walk between 3-5 miles an hour. Horses could travel around 40 miles in a day. If necessary, the horse could go on for 60 miles before it needed a break, although unlikely to do so with two people on its back!

Horses can trot at about 8 miles an hour, as fast as a person runs. They canter at 15 miles an hour. Whilst they can gallop at roughly 30 miles an hour, however, the gallop was never meant for long distances, it is essentially a burst of speed in order to get to safety. A horse can only gallop for 2-3 miles before they need to slow down. Hence the need for a change of horse.

The distance for this journey is 99 miles. Therefore 2 and a half days seems reasonable. Two nights stay likely to be in castles. Second will be Edwin’s father-in-law’s, given time of year likely to arrive drenched.


Third journey takes place in France. Isabel’s husband is to escort Queen Eleanor from Mirebeau to Fontevraud. However Isabel’s first leg of the journey is from her husband’s castle to Mirebeau. They will then travel on horseback to Fontevrand. The battle took place on 1st August so journey will have taken place in early August.

Timing and length of journey.

Isabel’s first leg will take just a day, as her husband has arranged for change of horses and Isabel now rides astride!

The amount of luggage Eleanor needs to transport will determine the mode of transport used. She has been in north of France with her household, so it’s probable she has household and goods to transport to south. Given distance is only 62km or 38.5miles, I am tending towards a household transportation and 2 days of travel.




My characters are all nobles and have easy access to horses. However, the most common way to travel during this period would be on foot. The average person can walk 3 miles per hour, or a mile every 20 minutes. Pilgrims would routinely travel 10 to 20 miles in a given day. If necessary, they could go further, but, like horses, the conditions of terrain and weather needs to be taken into consideration.



Sad Songs


The other day, on the BBC website, I saw the headline, ‘Are these the 6 saddest songs?’ it linked to an article which listed six pieces of music and the reasons they made us cry. Some of the songs I concurred with but others, especially The Smiths, I disagreed with. Since I read the article I have wondered why we like songs/music that provoke feelings of sadness within us and which pieces of music I would have selected.

Before I continue I should mention that over Christmas I saw a programme on the highest music making pieces of music. Top was ‘Happy Birthday’ which is still under copyright and every public performance should pay a fee to the owners of that copyright. However, amongst the top ten were two records that have been covered by many artists, but are both associated with The Righteous Brothers; Unchained Melody and You’ve lost that loving feeling. Neither appears in the BBC list or my list, although I do love both. For me, although they can stir my emotions, they do not quite have that extra element which both isolates me from others around me whilst making me aware that others share the same feelings I do.

Music is part of a shared experience. I do not want to go into a long history of how music has developed but, whereas a book is a private communication between reader and writer, music, from creation to performance, involves many people, and even those sitting alone at home listening to a recording are indirectly connected to others. Whilst many people seek life-affirming, joyful music life is not always conducive to happiness, and there is a need to acknowledge the negativity of existence; the loss, the failure, the pain which often isolates as from others. It is probably the way we acknowledge and deal with this that ultimately makes us human. I feel that we need sadness from our music to enable us to connect with the sadness of others.

Baroque music wasn’t allowed to alternate between sadness and merriment, people expected a piece of music to evoke only one emotional response. It wasn’t till later that mood switches were acceptable. However, my favourite piece of ‘sad’ classical music does not have a mood change. It is played on the instrument, which in my mind, most resembles a human figure and is the only instrumental piece I have chosen. Its subject-matter is the elegant and beautiful swan, but I don’t think you really need to know its title to feel its poignancy. Julian Lloyd Webb The Swan

One of the pieces that both the BBC and I have selected is Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which mixes biblical references with suffering, humiliation and loss. The word, Hallelujah, is normally associated with praising God, here there is an irony to the praise which questions God’s presence in the suffering of man. The very time when a person would turn to God for support. There the words have as much impact as the music, which is quite simple. It is this simplicity which draws us in from the first chords. My personal favourite rendition is Jeff Buckley’s.  Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley

I have just realised that all the songs I’ve chosen have been written by men. Believe me it wasn’t a conscious decision and one of Carol e King’s song was even on my original list. Maybe it is the traditional expectation that men will be strong, and not speak of their pain, that, in the past, has meant their need, of an outlet through music, has been greater. I came across the next song a couple of years ago and similar to Hallelujah its style is simple. Its singer songwriter comes across as a man’s man and there is little emotion in his voice other than tired regret. Hurt by Johnny Cash

I am a big fan of soul music. It may seem strange that the black music of America gained such a large following in the working class on this side of the Atlantic, however if you listen to the music you realised their shared values. This particular song reminds me of going without in my childhood, it also mixes the voice of one of the greatest soul singer with the pathos of the horns section. It reaches inside you and, emotionally, wrings you dry. Enough said. Try a little tenderness by Otis Redding

No one, who remembers the eighties, can forget the impact this song had on them when used to accompany a film depicting the realities of a famine in Africa. It changed our perception of victims in the third world and made us ask questions of why this was occurring? I’m not sure that those questions have led to a full resolution of the problems. The song was not written to promote such considerations but has developed an identity beyond its original source. This raise the question of whether it is just the music that stirs my emotions or the memories associated with it? Drive by The Cars

Another eighties song, although there are echoes of times past and times to come within it. Wars have been fought throughout history and are still occurring now. This song focuses on the unifying experience of soldiers away from home and families, but also contains the feeling of loss, even death of comrades. Here the lyrics endow a bitter beauty to the futility of war.  Brothers in Arm by Dire Straits

Still in the eighties, my next song mixes emotional music, a clear male voice and haunting lyrics. Its subject matter is the most binding, but isolating, human experience; personal love and despair. It still evokes tears to my eyes. A different corner by George Michael

Sorry, but I can not leave this without having one female presence. This song stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it and still has the power to do so now. Again the music is actually quite simple and the voice is amazing clear. Here the lyrics create not connection through recognition but through imagery; this is what love should feel like, this is as good as life on earth can get, this is both momentarily and eternal. The first time ever I saw your face by Roberta Flack

Maybe your eyes are still dry and you feel no connection to any of these pieces. Well, we’re all different and we have different experiences of life. Some of these songs have evoked memories within me, the stronger songs pure emotion but, for me, they have that extra element that resonates within me. I would be interested in your comments. I realise I have also listed eight pieces but, whilst I am happy to add to list, I do not want to remove any.

Please note. All music is linked to youtube video. I was unable to make Spotify work. At time of uploading all videos are present and working. A few have ads attached, annoying, but the service is free.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Until recently I believed that everyone was capable of multi-tasking, certainly as a mother I had to stop what I was doing in order to cope with an unexpected crisis. I believed I did more than one task regularly as I cared for children, cooked food, shopped or whatever else was necessary throughout a day. When I worked I was expected to multi-task in order to complete my job. However, the human mind isn’t designed to constantly multi-task and gradually problems will occur.

The human mind is design to focus on tasks but, in times of danger/crisis, it will quickly switch into ‘flight or fight’ mode to assess a situation and decide how to deal with it. This causes adrenalin (and norepinephrine, which is also used to contract low-blood pressure) to pump through our bodies to provide the extra boost we would need to deal physically with the situation. However, in our more sedate lives we do not use this adrenalin properly so it is absorbed within the body. To constantly be flipping into this ‘flight/fight’ mode also gives us a lift, which means that after a while our bodies actually crave this adrenalin fix. However, in most situations the body does not run a mile or attack an enemy, maybe as a mother we tend to continue through with some physical activity for example, rushing into the garden to stop water attack or separating children, but sitting at a desk answering the phone whilst still typing at your computer is not a physical activity. Unused adrenalin can cause problems including tension, headaches, acid indigestion, anxiety, stress, even back pain! I had no idea of this when I was working and just felt a failure. It wasn’t until I was recently doing a mindfulness course that I understood my body had in fact been reacting naturally to the pressure I was working under.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t change activities when you are working. A phone rings you need to answer it, but we need to stop trying to, literally, do two things at once. The computer screen should be ignored and the phone answered and the caller dealt with. Changing focus is not the same as multi-tasking. You remain calm and accept the need to change rather than invoking the ‘flight/fight’ mode. You focus solely on doing one task well, then pick up the original task and re-focus on it. It may seem that you’re losing time but in reality by trying to focus on two things at once you’re actually doing two tasks badly rather than one task well. I now find myself saying to people, ‘Let me finish this and I will be with you’ when people are pushing me to do two things at once. Recently though one lady did say to her husband, ‘she’s deaf’, when I didn’t respond to her request for ‘cashback’ when I was still scanning her shopping. As cash can not be given until shopping is paid for I concentrated on task in hand. After I dealt with her shopping I turned to her husband and said, ‘I understand you would like cash back.’ I have also had to mention, ‘I’ll do that when I’ve finished this’ to various people, if people friendly, I’ll add ‘I’m not an octopus’ or something similar. Yes, people expect the impossible but I no longer feel I’ve failed if I can’t give it to them.

I am not perfect and I still find myself doing more than one task at a time. At present the TV is on and I’m writing this, to be honest I’m not interested in the programme so I am focused on this piece. However, my husband, who is playing a game on his i-pad, wanted to watch the programme. We are living in an age in which we consistently do several things at the same time, but the truth is we’re really skimming tasks and developing bad habits. Too many people suffer from stress-induced illnesses. Hopefully recognising that multi-tasking is, in fact, a myth will cause others to step back and reassess how they work. Prioritising, focusing and communication are the keys to develop in order to work stress-free and provide the job performance your company actually needs.



Clifford Nass, “How Multitasking Is Affecting the Way You Think”

Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance delivered by Monash University (free on-line course)

Image – Richard Armitage demonstrating fight principle as Sir Guy of Gisbourne in BBC Robin Hood