Smart women don’t get wrinkles

My new book is out. It all started with a flourish this weekend when the Daily Telegraph serialised it (link below).
Publishing a book is a bit like having a baby. There is a long gestation period, followed by the new-born phase where you have to help them along. After a while you just have to let them go and hope for the best.
The good news is, they are unlikely to rebel in their teenage years and the worst thing they can do is refuse to sell.image1
So my new baby is out there, and if you do buy it, I hope you enjoy Smart women don’t get wrinkles. Of course we do get wrinkles, but the point of the book is to minimise them, and also to meet ageing head-on as opposed to just letting it take us over.
I think this is a great time to be ageing. A friend of mine suddenly has a 70 year-old boyfriend and said yesterday “well, of course 70 isn’t old any more”. Imagine saying that even 10 years ago? Look at style icon Iris Apfel gracing our TV screens at 90 in a car ad. Or that Swiss billionaire having twins aged 54. On a more negative note, Japan is suffering from a ‘grey crime-wave’.
If 70 isn’t old any more and you may be called on aged 90 to advertise a car your great-grandchildren will be driving, you need to make sure you are ageing well enough to enjoy life once you get there. And this is what the book is about, not just wrinkles. It’s all about how to stay young, when you get old.
Happy reading!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/beauty/tips-tutorials/how-to-look-10-years-younger-secrets-of-an-anti-ageing-aficionad/

The wrong message

I read with dismay that Germany is about to introduce single-sex carriages on the underground due to the amount of sex attacks on women by migrants.
What kind of message does this send? It sends a message that we are willing to accept this outrageous behaviour and are taking steps to incorporate it into our society and way of life.images
This is entirely the wrong message. Just as it was entirely the wrong message to let a man in the north of England get away with molesting a young boy due to “cultural differences”. So while a football player is sentenced to six years in jail for “grooming and molesting” a 15 year old girl, another man gets off with raping someone who really is a child.
These “cultural differences” should not be accepted in our society. In our society it is neither acceptable nor legal to molest young boys. In other parts of the world it is considered almost the norm. Remember that horrendous story about sex-slave boys being chained to the beds of officers serving in the Afghan army? Our army would, quite rightly, imprison someone who did that. In our society you can’t just grab hold of a woman because you like the look of her. In others, men are all-powerful and get away with murder, literally.
I no longer dare let my 12 year old son Leo go to a public loo alone. I have insisted the girls download rape alarm apps. Never mind terrorism, Europe is less safe because of the appalling life in so many other places, which means literally millions of people who don’t share our values want to live here.
Quite what we thought would happen when we opened our borders to people who have in some cases been badly damaged by war and\or others have a very different concept of right and wrong, I don’t know.
What I do know is that by introducing single-sex carriages, we are doing exactly what the terrorists who create such hell in our usually peaceful cities want. We are turning our liberal, safe and democratic society into one resembling theirs. Which means they are winning. And that is the wrong message.

Me and my Santé magazine column

It must  be more than 10 years ago that I received a call from an editor at the French magazine Santé. I was on a train at the time, heading from our home in the south of France to London, and I remember the line being rather bad. The editor asked me if I would be interested in writing a beauty column for them entitled ‘Me and my…..’ I had to double check that I hadn’t misheard. “But I can’t write in French,” I protested. The editor suggested I find a translator. They wanted something with “typical British humour”. They had seen my column in the Sunday Times and decided I was the woman for the job. The Santé column is still going, with my lovely friend and translator Jacques Kuhnle translating every one. Over the next few months I am going to publish a selection here, starting with this one about Japanese skin care.

Me and my Japanese skin care regime 

It was at the Viva Mayr Clinic in Austria that I first heard about Japanese skin care. I was there to research a book about ageing the Viva Mayr way. The clinic, situated on the shores of an Austrian lake, is the go-to place for those who can afford the time and the cost of taking the “cure” as they call it, which basically means cleansing from the inside out. I have neither time nor money, but one of the perks f being a writer is that you get invited to all sorts of places you could never afford to go to in order to write about them.

These retreats make for interesting social dynamics. For a start you end up wearing nothing but your dressing gown in front of strangers. And the first topic of conversation is usually (at Viva Mayr anyway) about your digestive system. I met a lovely woman called Kendal on my visit there. Once we had compared our digestive systems we moved on to skincare. Kendal lives in Japan and told me how Japanese women look after their skin. This is something that has always fascinated me, as you don’t really see many Japs who have aged badly. I assumed it was due to all the fish they ate, and in part it may be, but they are also dedicated to caring for their skin extremely well. Kendal gave me some of her Japanese products to try, along with a sheet of instructions for the facial massage that is at the centre of any Japanese cleansing ritual. I have since run out of the lovely products she gave me but this is where my ‘layering’ method of skincare was born.

Scan 4It is more or less the same regime morning and evening, although in the morning I don’t remove my make-up and I use a day cream with SPF instead of a night cream.
It begins with removing my make-up. I use a lotion, usually Clarins Cleansing Milk with Alpine Herbs. If I have been wearing eye make-up I use an eye make-up remover too. Next it’s the deeper cleansing and massage stage. This is what the Japanese refer to as the ‘cleansing the pores’ stage, where you go beyond the superficial and get deep down into your skin. Here I use my favourite cleanser, Eve Lom Cleanser. You need a cleanser that is thick and creamy because this is also where the massaging comes in. The Japanese, as you would imagine, have an extremely precise set of instructions on the massage. I started by following them on the sheet of paper Kendal gave me, but now I just improvise. The idea of the facial massage is of course to deep cleanse, but also to relax the muscles, thus smoothing away wrinkles and eliminating toxins. Focus on your jawline, cheeks, forehead and the area around the eyes. I usually massage for between one and two minutes.

Once I have removed the cleanser, I tone. Following that I layer skincare products on my face and neck. I always start with a serum to nourish my skin; my advice pick one with active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or vitamin C. Following that is the oil, and finally a night cream at night or a day cream for the day. And don’t forget the eye cream, another good excuse to gently massage your eye area.

The future is definitely not orange…

“This isn’t a scam isn’t it?” I asked Laura from Orange Models. “I mean I know people do lure young girls in with the promise of an illustrious modeling career and all they’re really doing is selling them a portfolio.”
Laura assured me it was not. Several times. And as I normally do when someone answers a direct question, I believed her.
The reason I was talking at Laura at all was that my daughter Olivia had spotted an ad online. ‘Models needed’ it read. And gave an email address and instructions on how to upload pictures. Olivia has had some modelling experience. Well she did one job, for Centrepoint, a charity that helps homeless young people. So she figured she would give it a go. Minutes after the sent them her picture, Laura was on the phone to her. And then she had to talk to me, as Olivia is a minor.
“We really like her look,” she gushed. “She’s quite mature looking isn’t she for her age? She’s got a really interesting face. We think she’d be perfect for High Street brands like Top Shop and Zara and catalogues.”
Laura continued for about 15 minutes, telling me all about how the High Street brands are looking for new, young faces, girls aged 15 or 16.IMG_0568
“But she’s too short to be a model,” I said. “She’s only 5 foot six.”
“Oh there are no height restrictions for that age group,” Laura assured me and then proceeded to tell me what the procedure was.
Olivia was being invited for a four-hour assessment, where there would be people on hand to do her hair and make-up, a stylist to dress her and a photographer to take pictures of her.
“But this must be a scam,” I said. “You can’t possibly provide all that for nothing. What is this going to cost me?”
Nothing at all I was told bar a £50 deposit to secure the studio and staff. This would be refunded as soon as I showed up on the day. “We make our money by passing models on to agencies who get work for them.”
I asked her again if it was a scam or if we were going to be asked to buy the images. Not at all I was assured. They were simply assessing Olivia’s potential to become a model.
“So if you think she has potential you will take her on without me buying a portfolio?”
“Yes of course.”
Olivia was very excited about her future as a model. She recently dropped out of school and was facing the prospect of one mundane job after another. The thought of becoming Kate Moss was incredibly appealing.
I had by now started to believe Laura. She really did talk a good game and she seemed genuinely keen on my daughter, telling me again and again how interesting her face was and what potential she had.
As the day drew closer though and I was faced with the prospect of trekking up to London for it I thought I ought to just double check. So I called Orange again. Laura was out but her colleague asked if he could help me.
Again I repeated my scam question. Again I was assured Olivia was there for a genuine assessment, and that if she were successful she would become a model.
Olivia and I arrived at the studios of Metro Photography at the allotted time with her vital statistics listed and a bag full of clothes for her to change into for her various “looks”.
We were greeted by a girl called Gisela and her stylist Pedro. Gisela painstakingly filled out a form with us, all about Olivia and what sort of model she could become. Then came the photo shoots. Five different looks, involving five locations (outside in the freezing cold, in the studio etc), makeup and hair five times and so on. The whole process took hours. I had to dash off to a meeting so Olivia’s father had to come and take over while the team “assessed” her pictures and decided if she had a future as a model. You can see a selection I took here.IMG_0574

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia said it was lucky I wasn’t there for the so-called assessment. A man with a rather annoying lisp droned on for ages, keeping them in suspense as to whether Olivia had “made it” until the last minute. They looked at the photos, apparently she looked great, and then EUREKA! She had made it, she could be a model, she could be the next Kendal Jenner. Olivia of course was utterly thrilled. Rupert was happy too, until they told him he would have to buy a portfolio. For £700.

So they had repeatedly lied to me. I wonder how these people can sleep at night knowing they make their living giving innocent punters false hope. How could Gisela (if indeed that is her name) go through all this all day, day in, day out knowing it’s all a lie?
I have to hand it to Orange “models” as they call themselves and their partners, Metro Photography. The whole process was meticulously thought out, every detail made you think they were actually serious until of course they slap you with the bill.
By that stage of course there will be people who have been so overwhelmed and seduced by the whole “modelling” experience that they just can’t say no. And heaven knows what lengths they will go to in order to come up with £700 for something that will be of no use to them whatsoever. We saw two other people fall for it while we were there; one very sweet girl who was about the height of my 12 year old son so is never going to be a model and another woman who was even older than I am.
At best what Orange and Metro are doing is preying on people’s vanity, at worst on their insecurities and their need to be loved.
Whichever it is, they need to be stopped.

My books of the year

I have been meaning to do this for days and I guess it’s now or never. Having read a lot of fairly dreary lists of books of the year I would like to share my own hopefully not so dreary list….

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben McIntyreimgres
Utterly brilliant read, a bit like a thriller in fact, totally unputdownable, extremely well written and researched, made me want to d0 nothing but read about spies for months.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

imagesOne of the funniest books you are ever likely to read, it follows the downfall and eventual redemption of the unlikely hero Paul Pennyfeather. It was Waugh’s first novel but contains some of the most memorable characters in literature such as the public school man Grimes who is irresistible, irrepressible and appalling all at the same time. Worth reading just for the prep-school scenes, which are laugh-out loud funny and scarily close to the truth….

We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
imgres-1This is such a clever book. It manages to combine tragedy and comedy perfectly, as well as telling a really moving and compelling story. One of the few contemporary novels I read this year and really enjoyed. If you haven’t read it then do so immediately.

 

 

 

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
images-1One of those books I first read as a teenager and reread this year. I’m so glad I did. It is hysterically funny. Some of the one-liners are reminiscent of Dorothy Parker in their brilliance such as the following: “There are some things (like first love and one’s first reviews) at which a woman in her middle years does not care to look too closely.” Hear, hear!

imgres-2Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
And talking of brilliant one-liners…in fact read anything by Nancy. She is the female equivalent of Waugh, just as sharp, perceptive, snobbish and entertaining. I devoured all her books this year and will probably read them again next year. Unforgettable touches such as the “Hons” club her heroine belongs to. A lightness of touch coupled with incisive perception. Just perfect.

Finally the book of the year NOT to read….

How to be both by Ali Smith
Incomprehensible, pretentious drivel. Parts of it are nicely written but rather like Alice laments a book without pictures, I can’t see the point of a book with no plot. I wanted to know how to be neither by the end. In fact I couldn’t even bear to get to the end.

The runaway parents’ club

There are several stages of parenting, and you tend to share them with your girlfriends. The excitement of the first pregnancy scan, the birth, followed by the toddler stage, comparing first steps and first words, the funny things they say, the adorable things they do. Then comes the (mainly) harmless pre-pubescent stage and finally the bit we all dread that bridges childhood and adulthood. Yep, the teenage years.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but as the mother of a couple of girls who were nicknamed the ferals by a close friend back in 2008, I predicted it wouldn’t be easy.
It is not, but as with the other parenting stages, I am not alone. A lot of my friends are going through similar (and worse) things than I am. One friend had her car stolen, driven all over the county and dumped in a field, filthy and rather predictably out of petrol. Another left her daughter staying with friends while she went abroad for a few days. When she got back the daughter had hosted an enormous party, trashed the house (including a broken floor, I mean how the hell do you do that?!), drunk everything that even resembled alcohol and even managed to damage the next door neighbour’s place.
As I lay in bed last night fuming over the injustices linked to being the parent of a teenager and wondering if I could run away from home, I had an idea.
As my heroine Nora Ephron was fond of saying: “Everything is copy.” There was a film in 1996 starring Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler called The First Wives Club. imgres
It tells the story of three friends whose husbands have all left them for younger women. The first wives plot their revenge with hilarious consequences. How about a similar film about three friends whose teenagers have ritually abused them, trashed their homes, flunked out of school, stolen from them (I could go on) plotting how to finally get control of their offspring?
I imagine something like a kidnap where the three teenagers are whisked off to some awful boot-camp in Wales by the mothers all wearing cat-woman type disguises, armed with whips and Taser guns.
Here the adolescents are subjected to the kind of things they subject their parents to on a daily basis, as well as some rigorous exercise, hideous arithmetic and French verbs thrown in for good measure, possibly even the odd (fake of course) life-threatening situation. When they eventually “escape” (also part of the mothers’ plot) and get home they are so grateful to be there they are utter lambs.
And at any sign of dissent the mothers have only to drop the word ‘Wales’ into the conversation to trigger terrible flashbacks…

Happy Birthday dear Biologico

24598_101777316529563_3127801_nToday is my father’s birthday. Or at least it would have been, but he died in January 2014.
I didn’t really know him until I was a teenager. My mother and he split up when I was two. She and I moved to Sweden then England and we had no contact with him until we went back to Italy over ten years later. When he first met me after all that time, he was disappointed. I didn’t speak Italian, I had no idea who Dante was, and my hero was John Travolta. “I see you have inherited my looks and your mother’s brains, a most unfortunate way for things to have turned out,” was one of the first things he said to me. It seemed too late to call him ‘daddy’ so he became ‘biologico’ for obvious reasons.
He was not the most patient man, and this was before the days when children had any say in their upbringing whatsoever. Our first few years together were spent battling . Him battling to make me more intelligent, me battling to remain in the mediocrity I felt comfortable with. I am now struggling with a similar situation, trying to stop my own teenage daughter from being as stupid as I was.
At the time of course I was sure he was wrong, that how one spoke was irrelevant, that learning Dante was utterly ridiculous and that there was no real reason to read books or stop smoking. But now on his birthday I look back on all his efforts as a kind of gift. I never did learn the Divine Comedy off by heart (as he did) but I am glad that he at least opened my eyes to a world above John Travolta, smoking cigarettes and ghastly pop music.
I guess that is all you can do with children, show them what’s out there, and hope they pick up on it. Even if it takes several years for the message to get through. Sometimes it probably doesn’t even get through.1008974_655292077863679_1983957060_o
As Dorothy Parker put it so well while on a quiz show trying to use the word horticulture in a sentence: “You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think.”
I wish he were here today of course, I would phone him up and wish him Happy Birthday, he would immediately be able to tell if something was bothering me and give me some advice on how to deal with it, then he would say “grazie per la chiamata”, hang up and get back to his writing.
The best way to remember him will be to spend the day writing. He was a firm believer in working every day, and not letting too much nonsense get in the way. Of course sometimes as far as he was concerned I was the nonsense, he did constantly remind me of how stupid I was, which at the time felt kind of harsh, but looking back on it now seems fair.
Happy Birthday dear Biologico, and thank you.

We’ll always have Paris

People go to Paris to be happy. They go to drink champagne, to eat delicious food, to sit in cafés discussing philosophy, to shop for matching underwear and to make love.
Paris is not a city you go to if you’re on a diet, metaphorically or literally. It is a city of excess, of abundance, beauty and glamour.
I’m sure that’s why the terrorists picked Paris on Friday night. There is no city on earth that is more symbolic of everything they hate. As the writer Alan Furst once said: “Paris is the beating heart of Western civilisation. It’s where it all began.”
On Friday night, a gang of murderous thugs tried to end it. They turned a fun evening out for hundreds of people into their worst nightmare. They targetted young people, people who had just started out in life, men and women who had everything to look forward to, who should have had years and years to live, not minutes, or seconds. A concert was turned into something resembling Dante’s lower circles of hell.
The stories and images to come out of the Bataclan theatre and other parts of central Paris where the terrorists rampaged will stay with us forever. Who will ever forget the man whose wife was murdered promising the terrorists that every day their 17-month old son will “insult you with his happiness and his freedom”? Or the hero who threw himself in front of a woman in a restaurant to save her from the terrorist’s bullets? Or even the BBC newsreader who broke down in tears? Something we have all done, some of us several times a day, since it happened.imgres
I don’t understand what those murderers think they are going to achieve by killing and maiming people. I’m not even sure they do. But picking on Paris was a mistake. Paris is everyone’s favourite city. Most people who have visited Paris have happy memories. Those who haven’t yet been dream of going and walking over one of her bridges, or exploring her museums. Paris is beautiful, elegant and, as we have seen, vulnerable. She is a bit like a stunning woman, whom no one wants to see violated.
It was wonderful to see the whole world light up monuments in the tricolor as a tribute to Paris, and of course the Eiffel Tower itself, standing tall, like a giant ‘doigt d’honneur’ or middle finger saying an enormous f*** you to the terrorists.
Vive la France.

St Trinians for grown-ups?

Has anyone else found that the more choice we have on TV the less there is to watch?
Last night I scrolled through the channels. At the last episode it really was too late for me to get into The Great British Bake Off. I love The Simpsons but just wasn’t in the mood. Channel 4 news annoyed me, again. And England are out of the Rugby World Cup, so no point in watching that.
I wished then that I had done something about an idea I had a couple of years ago for what I think would be a brilliant reality TV show. Something to rival The Great British Bake Off, only less fattening. The plan is this: you pick a suitably snooty girls’ boarding school, Benenden for example, or maybe even Heathfield Ascot. You take say three or four of the girls, possibly from Lower Sixth or maybe from various age groups, and you replace them, for a period of two weeks, with their mothers.bfi-00m-mjh
Obviously you need to pick the mothers wisely. You need women who will create good TV. It’s no good having someone who doesn’t say anything intelligent, stupid or outrageous. But my experience of these boarding school mothers is that they have plenty of chatter. The mothers would live at school, wear the uniform, attend lessons, play lacrosse and eat the ghastly boarding school food. In short they would live their daughters’ lives for a couple of weeks.trinians_682x400_405423a
We viewers would monitor their progress. How they were doing conjugating their French verbs for example, or being told by matron when to get up, sharing a bathroom with ten other girls who are all trying to steal their La Prairie face cream, attending chapel on a compulsory basis. It might be a good idea if one of them was an ‘old girl’ so she could compare life then and now. “Well, in my day we didn’t have heating, we had a hot water bottle, but only in Upper Sixth.” You can imagine the sort of thing.
There would obviously have to be some kind of competitive element in order to make it more interesting. Maybe the mother who wins the most votes from the viewing public gets a term’s free schooling for her daughter?
At around £11,000 this would definitely be worth embarrassing yourself on national TV for. I think it would make great viewing, and if someone wants to make the show they can count me in as one of the mothers. Bea will be grateful for the time off and I would even be willing to subject myself to chapel for two weeks. It can’t be more boring than television.

Why we will always love Jonny

As we prepare for the rugby world cup without the world’s greatest living Englishman, I thought I would bring back some fond memories of the 2007 tournament. I covered it for the Sunday Times from deep in the heart of French rugby-playing territory. Here is a piece about Jonny Wilkinson, whom I will always consider one of our greatest ever sporting heroes. I am so happy Leo watched him kick that drop goal in 2003. OK so he was only four months old, but he swears he remembers it…

This time last week I had a terrible hangover. I woke up at 6am wondering why my head was throbbing. Then I remembered.
“We won,” I said to my husband.
“I want to read the French papers,” he replied.
“I want to marry Jonny Wilkinson,” I said.
“I do too,” he said.
That’s the thing about Jonny. Everyone adores him. My husband doesn’t even mind me having a crush on him. He is Jonny. He is the greatest living Englishman.
Never mind his girlfriend and his mum cheering him on, the rest of the nation is behind him too. And most of the female population would like to be on top of him.
I have noticed a change in my friends over the past few weeks. These are professional women of a certain age. But they are acting like teenagers. A freelance writer and mother in her 40s who shall remain nameless, spends most of her days sending me links to gay sporting websites where, once you get past the more obscene items, there are pictures of Jonny without his shirt on.
What does she love about him so much? “It’s the facial expression, although the bottom is lovely, it’s that come hither look and we’ll have some fun that I adore,” she says. “He is so incredibly private and low-key and this gives him an air of mystery and thus obviously more sex appeal. The exact opposite of those talent-less celebrity seekers, Jordan and Posh types.”
A doctor friend of mine has five children, so plenty of choice for screensavers there. What picture does she have on her computer? Jonny taking a penalty kick. Why I asked her? “Don’t ask stupid questions,” was her response.Marry me
But it’s not only sad middle-aged women like me who adore him. A friend of mine’s fourteen-year-old daughter loves him, as does her grandmother. Jonny’s appeal is cross-generational and universal.
Although I wouldn’t mind taking him home myself, he is the kind of boy I would be delighted if one of my daughter’s came home with. He would be a model son-in-law, polite and helpful around the house. He’s a nice boy with good manners and sense of fair play. When he wins he is as gracious as he is when he loses. When he lies on the ground it is not because he thinks he can convince the ref to give him a penalty but because someone has tried to take him out.
Some say he’s boring, that he’s too obsessed. “How do I meet him?” panted one friend during the England/France game. “By disguising yourself as a rugby ball,” responded another. People say he’s a rugby-playing anorak and deeply dull due to his focus and single-mindedness. I don’t agree. I love that ambition and determination. It makes him even more attractive. This is a man who wants to be the best in the world at kicking a ball over a post. Trivial? Dull? Maybe to some, but not to me and most of the female population of England.
In fact to us he is a super-hero. Jonny comes in at the last minute and scores the drop-goal to win the World Cup. Jonny tackles men four times his size and stops them dead in their tracks. But unlike most super-heroes he doesn’t wear his tights outside his trousers or a cape. Instead he wears an English rose and looks divine. And he takes the pressure so well. “Poor lad,” said a lady I met from Yorkshire recently. “He’s got the whole world on his shoulders.”Jonny
He is as brave as a super-hero. What must it feel like to walk onto a rugby pitch and know that the opposing team has only one strategy: Get Jonny. Obviously this is a strategy the female population of England can relate to, even if it is a tad unsporting.
It is true to say that he wouldn’t be such a hero if he wasn’t so, well, pretty. And pretty is not a word you would normally use to describe rugby players. But he is not poofy. He is no Percy Montgomery, constantly flicking his locks around, he is no Ginola, posing in L’Oreal advertisements. With Jonny you get a no-nonsense lad who looks like a model. What’s not to like? He is not using rugby to get his own TV show. That doesn’t interest him. He’s unlikely to have his own range of foul-smelling fragrance. Jonny has no sarongs, no celebrity girlfriends, no stupid hairstyles, no tattoos. He’s just a proper bloke with drive, ambition and determination to win for himself, his team and his country. That and a cute butt, obviously.