Sunday, 6 April 2014

Scaredy Cat

I'll admit it, I am scared of those elegant women at the make-up counters of department stores.  Their sheer elegance, flawlessly made up faces and terrific hairstyles make me cringe.  I envy anyone with the self confidence needed to sit down in the public eye so to speak and have a makeover performed on them.

I once got trapped into having a makeover of sorts or at least of trying out some new make-up.  I was prowling as inconspicuously as I could at my favourite cosmetics counter when an assistant pounced on me.  'Can I help you?' she purred and then on my mumbling something about 'just looking at some make-up', she produced a tube with lightning speed and suggested I try it.  Before I could gather what few wits I have, I found myself seated in a chair with the assistant applying make-up and advising me at the same time on what to do about my red and dry skin, all of which could be helped by one cream apparently.  When I looked in the mirror I had to admit that there was a general improvement and I was persuaded to buy the moisturizing cream to help my "little skin problem" as she put it.  In the end I bought the new foundation and also the magic cream, both excellent products I hasten to add, but way above my modest budget.  I know it's worth paying for quality cosmetics but having had to economize all my life, I always feel a bit guilty spending a lot on myself.

Looking back I have to admit that the encounter with the assistant was not guaranteed to boost my morale.  She was pleasant but very impersonal and in a discreet way she was pushy.  That's her job and I am not carping at it.  I am only saying that even though I felt good with the results of her labours, I also felt that I must have looked a wreck before she took me in hand.  But that's more down to me than to the sales assistant.  I know lots of women who love having makeovers and don't care if the whole stores looks on.  I even know one or two who will ask to try different things or reject the assistant's suggestions, something I wouldn't have the courage to do.

So if I'm inspecting a cosmetics counter I will still keep a wary eye out for any approaching assistant and I will move on before she can make me over. But I think I've matured enough to know that in the long run, no one can make you feel good except yourself and not all the lavish attention of a beauty expert is going to change that.  Kind of reassuring, isn't it?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Women in Black and White

Lately I started watching old black and white films and I was struck with how mysterious and sexy the women characters appeared.  This is particularly true of the films of Ray Chandler's novels.  The one I watched last night was Farewell my Lovely from 1944 - it was originally called Murder my Sweet and it featured Claire Trevor as the blonde bombshell.  The acting in general might not have been up to much - in the later version Robert Mitchum was much more convincing as the world-weary Philip Marlowe than Robert Powell - but it was fun to watch it.  In his novels Chandler nearly always featured a mysterious blonde with a pouty mouth who while eminently desirable was a bad girl at heart trying to lead the detective astray :  "a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window" as he describes it in Farewell my Lovely.  This film didn't disappoint in that regard.

I think that the women heroes (we aren't allowed to call them heroines any more are we?) in today's cinema are a different breed, even the ones who seduced Michael Douglas in past films.  There seems to be a lack of that smouldering subtlety that characterised the black and white era.  There were no bedroom scenes but there was no need for them as every gesture told a story and had everyone's imagination working overtime.  I think modern cinema does an overkill on sex and violence, those two motors of the film industry.  In effect it tells us that we don't have the wit to work it out for ourselves.  Mae West is of course one of the best examples here and her "why don't you come up, see me some time?" said in that husky voice is surely one of the best temptress lines recorded.

And the women were more than simple sex objects.  They might have been bad and nearly fooled the detective but they were intelligent, had their own agenda, and defied the role of wholesome stay-home-at-the-kitchen-sink housewife and mother which was so prevalent at the time.  They certainly would not have fitted comfortably into life on Walton's Mountain any more than women in our modern culture do.  I don't want to go back to earlier cinema stereotypes but I think we may have lost something in glamorous femme fatales along the way. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Dieting and all that

I've read so much about The Right Diet -  eat  less carbohydrates and fat and oh let's not forget sugar and then everyone takes too much salt - that I am considering giving up reading, at least about what's good and bad for you in the food chain.  I recently bought "low salt" soya sauce but when I compared the label to my (nearly empty) "regular" soya sauce, I found the "low salt" contained more salt. Yikes, who do you believe? How about an investigation titled "Is your food label telling you the truth?"

Of course food has to have something added to it to preserve it.  Even naive little me knows that.  Assuming the manufacturers are telling the truth about "standard portions" and "100 grams" worth of their products, it really means studying the labels and making an informed decision.  So there I am standing in the aisle of my local supermarket, blocking the mothers with trollies and grizzling toddlers, reading food labels.  It takes ages and you really need a pencil and paper or something more technical like your I-phone or what-have-you. 

You really have to understand what goes into a product, though, and this requires a lot of label reading.  On bad days and even some good days, I envisage a Reading Room at the supermarket where you can take all the products, read the labels and add up the sugar, salt, fat and calorie content of each one and make your decision accordingly.  By the time you've finished you will either a) have fainted with hunger and been shipped off to the local A&E, b) been shipped off to the local A&E because of supreme agitation, c) decided you will never buy a packaged product in future even if you don't know how to cook the next meal or....  but let me stop there.  I think you get the picture. 

Having driven myself crazy for a few weeks, I now just do an "informed estimate".   I check the recommended daily portion for fat, sugar and salt on each label and go for the lowest.   It's surprising how much more fat there is in some low fat spreads than in ordinary ones, for example.  I give starchy foods a wide berth, only buying wholegrain bread, rice and pasta.  But I do allow for treats now and then - life is too short to cut everything you love out of your diet.  Knowing that Friday night I can have half a bar of my favourite chocolate is a real incentive to bypass the stuff for the rest of the week.  The real solution, of course, lies in limiting the damage and enjoying your meals. I've combined this with exercise - just walking and climbing stairs - and I have lost a few pounds in weight, a fact I enter in my weight diary.  The feel good factor associated with this is a powerful incentive to continue and to have fun at the same time.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Finding Yourself - Who are you really?

In the 1960's and 1970's a lot of young people set out for far flung places in search of their personal identity. They sat at the feet of a guru in India or studied transcendental meditation, they believed in flower power. Nowadays, there are people who take a selfie and post it on Twitter, letting others find them as opposed to finding themselves.  Sort of like the guy who joined the Navy to let the world see him as opposed to the old British recruiting slogan "join the Navy and see the world".

I thought about this yesterday when I attended a seminar to celebrate International Women's Day.  I have to ask myself if we need an International Women's Day but let's skip that debate.  Anyway, one of the questions the facilitator put to us was "who do you see yourself as?"   This was a tricky one, actually.  Most of the women saw themselves as wife and mother figures.  I had a problem with that.  Yes, I am an ex-wife and a mother but my children are grown up and have their own lives.  I am very proud of them but I don't feel the label "mother" fits any more.  So who am I now?  Retired lady?  Reader, writer, walker, lover of the sea?  Yes, all of that but the facilitator wanted a one word definition.  I plumped for "free spirit" - admittedly the other women gave me some looks of surprise. But I reckon that's what I am and I hope that is what my readers are.  You can be what you want to be but you must make time for it, the facilitator said.  Now, when I was working full time and my children were growing up, there wasn't much time for me.  I probably could have used a seminar like this one to gain a few insights into being there for yourself.  But now I can relax and do my own thing. As I live alone I don't have to put meals on the table, I can stay in bed all day if I want to (I don't), I can even stay up all night without fear of waking someone else.  Don't get me wrong.  I enjoyed my busy life as a mother but now I feel I have deserved my holiday from all that.

It's Sunday, so when I have finished writing this, I'll make myself a pot of tea, put my feet up and read the Sunday papers - I've already been for a walk to the beach.

 Cheers everyone and I hope your Sunday is just as enjoyable.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Ready for the Storm

As I write this, my little town is bracing itself for yet another storm.  As far as I can guess, the wind is already around gale force on the Beaufort scale. Sir Francis Beaufort who devised this method of recording the strength of storms in 1805, was an Irishman serving in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Woolwich.  I can see why an Irishman would be interested in gale force winds.  This year we have experienced more than enough high winds and sea surges.  The next red warning is for later this evening and tonight.  High tide, with possible surges to match, is due here in my little town at 5 pm this evening.  The local council is busy erecting barriers but I am not sure that the wall near where I live will be fully built in time for tonight.  

There is nothing anyone can do in a storm except take as many precautions as possible and then simply ride it out.  At some stage it will go away.  I couldn't help thinking that that is what life is like, too.  One day you are in calm waters and all is well, then something happens which throws you off course.  It could be illness, losing your job, being involved in an accident.  You are left punch-drunk, wondering how this all happened, where did it all come from and how are you going to get over it?   And the miracle of life is that we all do get over it.  True, we may have a few scars, we may be limping a bit, but at some stage we shake ourselves and realise that it is behind us, that we can move on with our lives.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I felt as if someone had pulled not only the rug but the entire floor from under my feet.  I was faced with my own mortality which was a very frightening experience.  But after a few weeks the will to survive, to endure, kicked in.  Now six and a half years later, I am back on track, I often forget that I had cancer until I get my check-up appointment.  And I am endlessly thankful for having my health and strength back again.

So, as I watch the rain cascading down the windows, driven by gusts of wind, I prepare myself for when the full force of the storm hits.  But I also know that "this too will pass." 

Sunday, 26 January 2014


The Germans say was fuer ein Theatre when they want to criticize all the hype over something insignificant.  To me the expression conjures up people in costume leaping about and making violent speeches.  I suppose that is the impression it is supposed to give.

I had a night out at the theatre recently.  I went to see Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband at the Everyman in Cork.  It was a great night out.  Very different from the usual popcorn munching visits to the cinema, it was what can only be described as an occasion.  You don't go to the theatre wearing jeans and a t-shirt, or at least I feel you shouldn't!   It's a great excuse to dress up.  In fact, I could just imagine ladies in long evening dresses accompanied by black-coated gentlemen sitting in the plush seats or occupying the balconies.  Oscar Wilde's sparkling dialogue coupled with the sumptious costumes of the players made for a wonderful evening.  Interestingly I noticed a lot of young people in the audience who seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely.  The outdated language didn't seem to faze them and they laughed at all the little innuendos which make up Wilde's style.

This is what our "must have it all now" society misses out on.  Oscar Wilde's wit would be thrown away on a tiny screen or even on a big screen.   "Ah, nowadays people marry as often as they can, don't they" says Lady Markby in An Ideal Husband, "it is most fashionable."  This line is hilarious on stage but I imagine that being seen on film with a possible close up of the speaker would spoil it considerably and on a very small screen it would be lost completely.  It is the flesh and blood presence of the actors that makes Wilde's plays so amusing. 

I came away from the Everyman smiling to myself and determined to go to the theatre more often.  I picked up their programme for the first half of the year and there are many performances I'd like to attend.  That is what I call entertainment.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

New Beginnings and the Feel Good Factor

I am convinced that once New Year's Day is behind us here in the Western hemisphere, the light changes subtly and becomes softer.  I am just back from a walk on the beach and it was warm enough for me to sit on a bench for an hour and watch the tide coming in.  Local residents were out in force, anxious to see for themselves the evidence of all that damage done by high tides and stormy winds.  The sea was still showing some muscle power with waves a little bigger than usual crashing on the rocks.  All in all though, I felt the first faint stirrings of Spring.  The sparrows and wagtails seemed to feel the same and were darting about busily while the crows and seagulls dipped low over the water keeping an eye out for food left by the humans.  In fact, one father had gone down to the water's edge with his son and left a baby's bottle and a packet of biscuits on one of the benches.  In no time at all a crowd of crows had descended on the biscuits while the father was busy taking photographs of his little boy. Not that the birds suffer from hunger here, there is always more than enough for them to scavenge and here on the coast the weather is never too cold to make a difference to their feeding habits.  But they love things that humans eat.  Once I spilt the contents of an ice cream cone onto the rocks and before you could say "caw caw" a bunch of crows had devoured it all.

Here are some pictures I took the other day when the sun was out. I hope I never forget to be grateful that the beach is just a short walk away.