Can a frog turn into a prince?

Not even Scarlett Johanssen could do it. Hang on to a French husband that is. Two and a half years after she married Romain Dauriac the father of her daughter Rose, the actress is filing for divorce. She doesn’t give a reason, but in an interview a few months ago talked about how impossible monogamy is. Especially for Frenchmen, she could have added.

downloadJohanssen joins a long list of illustrious women who have loved and lost a la française.

In January this year pop princess Cheryl Cole split from her French husband Jean-Bernard citing unreasonable behaviour. The actress Gemma Arterton has broken up with her boyfriend Franklin Ohanessian.

When the sexy French actor Olivier Martinez leapt onto the world scene in the film The Horseman on the Roof and announced that “Madame a déjà un escort” we all wanted to be that Madame. Halle Berry and Kylie Minouge both were, for a while, but neither lasted the course. Perhaps though the most shocking of all news of the split between Kristen Scott Thomas (who is as close to being a French woman as you can possibly be without being actually being French) and her gynaecologist husband in 2005 after 18 years of marriage. The rumour at the time was that she was having an affair with the actor Tobias Menzies, but there were bound to be some Gallic issue underlying the split.

The list goes on. The evidence is blindingly obvious. If you’re not French, don’t marry a Frenchman.

Frenchmen make appallingly bad husbands. Along with their inability to keep their trousers on is a myriad of traits that make them so, well, impossibly French. Ego, the impenetrable language, misogynism and a loathing of anywhere outside their own arrondissement to name a few.

I had a French boyfriend. Once. It was a very long time ago, back in the days when the only men who used moisturiser were definitely “batting for the other side” as my grandfather used to put it.

Except Didier that is. Didier had a bathroom filled with more products than I had ever seen in one place. And remember this was when brands didn’t even have men’s skincare ranges. One look at those shelves was enough to send me running for the hills.

I’m grateful now to Didier and his skincare obsession. Because had it not been for him I might have been tempted, as so many women are, to actually marry a Frenchman.

“I’ve kissed a lot of frogs,” says Catherine, an English friend of mine who has lived in Paris for 15 years. “But none that have turned into princes.”

Catherine has seen too many of her compatriots fail to even contemplate marrying a French man. “They’re good for a love affair, but nothing more. Talk about a crowded marriage. If you marry a Frenchman you have to live not only with his pernickety mother watching your every move, but with his ego as well. I’m not sure which is worse.”

Catherine says that when looking for a husband someone from an Anglo-Saxon culture should look for a man from a country where there is more equality between the sexes than there is in France.

“The French are sexist pigs,” she says. “They’re very charming with it, but that’s the bottom line.”

Claire, another English friend living in Paris agrees. “I think we tend to put up with less shit than French women. For example, we expect a man to stay faithful and do the washing up now and again. Added to which, you always have to be perfect. There is no way a French man will put up with you mooching around at home in your pyjamas or gym kit.”

So apart from being habitually well groomed and turning a blind eye to infidelity, how do French women keep their men in line, and why do they want to?

“Oh they don’t keep them in line, unless she’s much richer or younger than him, or the man in question has some values, which is unlikely in France,” says Julia, an American mother of three who has lived in France for 17 years with her American husband. “But they prefer to stay married, as do the men. It gives them both security, albeit different types of security.”

Julia describes French society as an odd combination of more conservative and at the same time more licentious than ours. So while French men are allowed to behave as they want to, being unfaithful and refusing to do anything around the house, French women tend to put up with their behaviour due to a mixture of cultural norms and economic necessity.

“French women get peanuts in divorce settlements here, the law is as sexist as the men, so usually it’s in their interests to stay married.”

What happened to Hugh?

My husband’s and my reaction to the images of Hugh Grant doing a great impression of a beached whale in Mallorca were very different.
“How disgusting,” I said, pushing away my breakfast. “There’s no excuse for that.”
“How marvellous,” said my husband. “The pressure’s off. Pass me another sausage.”
Up and down the country men of a certain age not only breathed a sigh of relief, but allowed themselves to breathe out properly and let it all hang out for the first time in years.
Here was Hugh Grant, cinematic icon, sex symbol and floppy-haired hero looking worse than them. I can imagine them admiring themselves in the mirror thinking ‘I haven’t even got moobs, I’m a stud’.34DA342400000578-0-image-m-11_1464907508168
Hugh is a classic example of a middle-aged man who has decided that for him the war is over. By war I mean the battle to stay in shape, to remain young looking, and meet the ageing process head on. He has decided to slide into middle age in comfort (and rather dodgy looking swimming trunks).
I have lots of friends who have done the same. They have vast bellies, their shoulders seem to have vanished, they are jowly and look, well, old. Their wives on the other hand don’t. They take care of themselves, stay trim and dye their hair. They are starting to look ten, even 20, years younger than their frumpy husbands.
There really is no excuse to look like Hugh Grant. While I know men who are heading inexorably towards a flabby future, there are those (much rarer) who have taken charge of their destiny. They exercise, they don’t drink a bottle of wine a night and they watch what they eat. I have one friend who at 40 is younger than Hugh but he has the body of a 20 year old. I can’t imagine that by 55 he will have let it all go.
Staying in shape becomes a habit once you start. It’s the starting that’s tough. Especially when you’ve sunk as low as Hugh has. But the amazing thing about getting in shape is that it really doesn’t take very long. Start now. Do some exercise every day. Cut alcohol down to weekends. Try not to eat bread every day, or carbs at night. There are tiny tweaks you can make to your life that done together will add up to a new, rejuvenated and reinvigorated you. Who looks like Hugh Grant used to. I feel a sequel to Smart Women don’t get Wrinkles coming on. Yep, you guessed it. Smart Men don’t get Moobs.

I am a sofa…..

I went to a baby shower last week, and just to give you an idea of how they tend to do these things in Abu Dhabi, I am uploading a photo.

Understated, eh? My first thought as I walked in was of the film Batman, when the duck turns out to be carrying gun-toting madmen. But happily it was peace and cup-cakes all round.

There was a fortune teller there so I decided to see what the future has in store for me. The good news is that I will write a best-seller. In fact I am soon to sign some mega-deal, possibly with a production company. What a relief, the amazon rating is teetering and sales are steady but not good enough to ensure I can afford to rent a giant duck for my next party.

The Russian fortune teller also told me that there is a man from my past (isn’t there always) who is going to reappear and try to take me away. Apparently my husband will react as a man reacts when someone tries to take their favourite bit of furniture away.

“He doesn’t say much, but he needs you, like his favourite sofa, and when someone comes to take it away, he will notice when he tries to sit down, and he will protect his world. He is a strong man and it is his right.”

So there we have it, I am a sofa, but at least I’m the favourite one. Am intrigued to see who this man from my past is and why he would want another man’s old sofa…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

A Real Man

Some of you will have seen this, but it is so funny I am posting it in case any of you have missed it.

A real man is a woman’s best friend. He will
never stand her up and never let her down.
He will reassure her when she feels insecure
and comfort her after a bad day.

He will inspire her to do things she never
thought she could do; to live without fear
and forget regret. He will enable her to
express her deepest emotions and give in to
her most intimate desires. He will make sure
she always feels as though she’s the most
beautiful woman in the room and will enable
her to be her most confident, sexy,
seductive, and invincible.

No wait… sorry… I’m thinking of wine.
It’s wine that does all that…….

Never mind.

Summer is here

I may be accused of writing a spurious blog about the summer just so that I can post this picture of Rafa that a kind-hearted work contact sent me yesterday.

I deny this accusation. Summer is a very interesting topic and should be written about often, and at great length.

As Henry James said: “Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

If you live in Abu Dhabi, then this Samuel Taylor Coleridge quote is perhaps more apt: “Summer has set in with its usual severity.”

Unless of course you happen to be on a beach with Rafa….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Heathcliff comes to Abu Dhabi

So this ex-boyfriend thing has now reached ridiculous heights….not that Heathcliff (as you may remember him from blogs of years ago) was ever my boyfriend. No, he was the first love of my life. I was all of 17 when I met him at Pucci’s Pizzas in Chelsea and I fell in love in the way that only really stupid 16-year-olds can. Naturally he didn’t feel the same way about me, which is lucky, because what is the point of anguished teenage love if it is not anguished? Apparently I was too skinny I heard from a mutual friend years later. Which just goes to disprove the theory that a woman can’t be too thin or a man too rich.

Now he is a famous chocolate-maker, and he is coming to Abu Dhabi to launch his own brand of chocolate. You might even have heard of him, he is called Willie Harcourt-Cooze. He has been on TV and has written books all about chocolate.

Today I am interviewing him for the magazine, on the phone, so the article can come out when he is here at the end of the month. “It seems surreal you interviewing me,” he said in an email yesterday.

Not as surreal as Heathcliff pitching up in Abu Dhabi carrying bars of chocolate….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

The Quest for Eternal Youth

Colin FirthI am about to interview a handsome young man called Ben Barnes who is in Abu Dhabi for the Middle East International Film Festival. He stars in a great new film called Easy Virtue with, among others, Colin Firth.

Tragically Colin is not here or I would have been interviewing him as well. I was rather depressed last night as I watched the film and quickly realised that I found the middle-aged Colin a thousand times sexier than the young gun. This is clearly a sign that I am just that – middle aged.

Ben’s next film is Dorian Gray. We all know the plot; young man makes pact with devil to stay handsome and young. Staying young is a bit of a theme this week. As you may know I saw Duran Duran on Sunday. I was so excited. John Taylor and Nick Rhodes were among my top ten list of gorgeous men for many years.

“This is such a great east meets west event,” a young Arab said to me while we waited for my heroes to show up.

“I was rather hoping it would be more of a Helena Frith Powell meets John Taylor kind of event,” I replied, edging closer to the front of the stage. Big mistake. Huge. Getting close to the front that is. Being so close made it easy to see the decline in the heroes of my youth.

John Taylor has for some reason turned into Jim Carrey. His face is all crinkled and rubbery. Nick Rhodes is a square blob with hay-stack hair and Simon Le Bon is horribly jowly. He also had a dreadful habit of spitting onto a piece of kitchen paper (obviously laid out for that purpose) every ten minutes. And all the songs they were going to do were written in HUGE BLACK LETTERS on a piece of paper on the floor. Possibly so they wouldn’t forget them. I saw straight away that Save a Prayer wasn’t on it and although I did enjoy bopping along to the others, that was the one I wanted.

The extraordinary thing was that Le Bon acted as if he was Dorian Gray; as if he still looks twenty and is incredibly sexy, which he just isn’t. I suppose the sad truth is that although we age on the outside, inside we still feel as funky and pretty as we did when we were young. My mother-in-law says she is often horrified when she catches a glimpse of herself. “Who’s that old dear?” she asks, before realising it is her.

So although I did fancy Colin more than Ben, there is something undeniably attractive about youth. And it is something we all long to hold on to. But Duran Duran should stop dying their hair, prancing around in badly-cut nylon suits and realise they have no portrait in the attic.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Every eight seconds

MrDreamyI have a friend of a friend who is on the UK soap Coronation Street. He told her an amazing fact the other day which is that the scriptwriters are forced to come up with something exciting every eight seconds in order to prevent people from switching channels.

Every eight seconds….can you imagine if life was like that? No sooner have you given birth when your brother-in-law announces he’s running off with his best (male) friend and your mother tells you that you are in fact the product of a liaison she once had with a Brazilian opera singer and not your father who thinks Rigoletto is a pasta dish.

McSteamyAnyway, as you may know, the favoured soap around here is Grey’s Anatomy. I have the good fortune to have a very technically-minded friend who downloaded the whole of the fourth series for me. Yesterday was a sad day. Olivia and I watched the final episode. I don’t even think they’ve made a fifth series yet and am wondering how on earth to get through the ironing during the coming months.

My friend who downloaded the series says you can tell a lot about a woman by asking her if she prefers McDreamy or McSteamy.

As long as either or both of them are on every eight seconds, I’m happy. So what does that say about me?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

It’s all about Han Solo now….

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece for the Guardian’s book blog about how the literary heroes of our youth never change. For example, I was in love with Heathcliff and Darcy when I was 16 and I probably still will be when I’m 60.

Spurred on by Rupert’s dismay that the children watch such rubbish compared with the stuff we grew up on, I ordered the three original Star Wars films. What a treat. We watched all three in rapid succession, it was fabulous, an inter-galactic feast.

I Lukewas mad about the films when they first came out and have not seen them since. It was amazing how much I remembered from almost thirty years ago and how the music still gives me goose-bumps.

But something has changed. Back then I was madly in love with Luke Skywalker. He was the first love of my life. I thought he was totally gorgeous. I doubted any other man could ever compare with him and his light-sabre.

HanNow he reminds me of Leo and I would rather cook him a plate of pasta than go on a date with him. As an Irish friend of mine put it; “It’s all about Han Solo now.”

But the scary thing is that even he looks too young and fresh-faced to really get excited about. So while our literary heroes might remain constant, men in films do not. Do you remember, for example, the first time you saw Gone with the Wind thinking how OLD Rhett Butler looked? Now he looks younger than me. I think I will stick to books.

RhettOn another note, I have made it into Private Eye, the satirical magazine read by the media in England and feared by the politicians. This is an extremely exciting moment (even more exciting than being reunited with CP30). The subject of the article is Zoe Williams’ vitriolic attack on me and her basic errors (see blog below One book better than two?). She is made to look like a fool which she thoroughly deserves, not least for calling me a ‘no-mark’. Something I thoroughly object to being called by someone I have never heard of.

Here is the text of the Private Eye article:

Guardian columnist Zoe Williams found herself very exercised recently by what she called “a small but seemingly quite flourishing eddy of publishing” encouraging British women to emulate their Gallic counterparts.

“Let’s try Two Lipsticks and a Lover. This is by Helena Frith Powell, who is English rather than French, but – praise be to God – met a Frenchwoman once, who told her what one needed to achieve Frenchness…This no-mark Frith Powell, and when I say I am amazed, I am not being hyperbolic, this really does amaze me – managed to string her observations about the French into another book, All You Need to be Impossibly French.

This would be a fair observation, but for three things: firstly, that Frith Powell is half-Italian and half-Swedish; secondly, that she may have met rather more than one Frenchwoman, having lived in the Languedoc region for the past eight years; and thirdly, she has only written one book on the topic, All You Need to be Impossibly French being the name of the US edition of Two Lipsticks and a Lover.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008