Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Bat for lashes

In Grooming, Make up on February 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm


There are all the obvious things we worry about when we start getting older… middle-aged spread, going deaf, stiffness in the joints, the increasing amount of time it takes the brain mice to retrieve names from the cranial filing cabinets.

But now I find I’m tripped up by things I hadn’t even thought of worrying about and, as previously mentioned, the most recent pressing one has been how to make up the ageing eye.

I’ve always found eye make very easy to do – a quick sweep of a nice neutral bruise-coloured shadow in the socket, perhaps some highlighter on the brow bone, a little greige eye pencil, eyelash curlers, a few lashings of mascara and it was all done.

But as my face has started to slide down, I’ve found that my carefully chosen Chantecaille eye shadow disappears into the folds of skin, which internet research reveal is called ‘the hooded eye’.

Who knew?

In desperation I reached out to my friend, legendary make up artist Val Garland, who is about the same vintage as me.

‘Got any tips for making up the older eye?’ I asked her on Twitter.

‘Really good sunglasses,’ replied Val.

After I stopped laughing, that was a sobering moment. If Val doesn’t have the answer, maybe there isn’t one. But never one to give up easily, I did my researches and found that Bobbi Brown gel eyeliner along the top lid helps a lot. It gives the eye definition, peeping out from beneath the folds of ancient eyelid. I don’t leave the house without it, now.

My little trick, is to apply the eyeliner, let it dry for a few moments – and then put my normal mushroom coloured powder shadow over the top. It softens the line beautifully, so the definition is still there, but you don’t look like a tragic superannuated Amy Winehouse wannabe. But for parties and the like, I want to start gearing up my old lady make up a few notches, wearing the older girl’s secret weapon of false eye lashes, as discussed previously.

But I’ve never got the hang of how you do it. All my attempts have lead to the appearance of tarantulas making a bid for freedom from my eyelids, waving happily at onlookers.

So I rang my friend Maria McErlane and asked if she would give me a masterclass. (That’s her on the left, holding Goliath, her faithful hound. Note tiara…)


Maria, who never looks less than glamourtastic, always slip on a false lash for a party. An actress and comedienne, radio presenter and agony aunt on her friend Graham Norton’s show on BBC radio 2 every Saturday morning (it’s a must listen, as the two of them banter on letters sent in, with the ease of old friends who love each others jokes) – she really knows her slap.

Here are her expert tips:

First assemble your kit. Maria likes the Girls Aloud lashes range – as modelled by Miss Cheryl Cole at the top.

But the glue that comes with any brand of false lashes is crap. Buy the Mac one – and a false eyelash application tool.

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I didn’t know these things even existed. They are like little curved plastic bulldog clip. The other thing you need is a wooden orange stick.

Trim the lashes to fit the length of your eyelids before you start, cutting the inner corner, so you don’t spoil the gradation of length as the lashes go out to the edge of the eye.

Get a magnifying mirror on a stand, so you can get in really close to see what you’re doing.

With all the gear in position and my daughter as model, Maria then put a dob of the glue on her hand in the indentation next to the thumb – where you would take snuff – and picked up one eyelash in the applicator. She then attached a thin layer of glue to it, using the orange stick.

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The most important thing, she says, it to then let the glue set for a few seconds, to get nice and tacky.

Using the applicator then press it on as close the lashes as possible, then once in place, press it on firmly, starting at the inner corner. At this stage, you can still pull them down closer to the eyelash line. If you get it wrong, peel it off and re-position – the glue will stay sticky for a while.

Maria puts on all her eye maker up, including liner, before adding the lashes. Then after letting them set for a couple of minutes she adds a little more eyeliner to bed them in.

It was all very impressive. Peggy had eyelashes so long and crazy they nearly created a draught when she blinked. She had platform eyelashes.

‘How did you learn to do that?’ I asked Maria.

‘From Graham,’ she replied. ‘When he was in the stage show of La Cage Aux Folles he had to put massive false eye lashes on in the middle of a song… He taught me how to do it.’


Now that’s the kind of man pal every girl needs.

Here’s a clip. He comes on after about 3 minutes.

Life in the fast lane

In Diets on February 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm



OK, here it is for all of you who’ve been wanting to know how I’m going with the fasting malarky… You want the short answer? Of course you do: so far it’s yes and no and yes.

YES because it’s so much easier to do than I expected, but NO because I haven’t lost as much weight as I was hoping. And YES because I feel really great on it.

On the down side, I’m not back in my skinny jeans and I’m definitely not back in the favourite pair of trousers which are my goal garment. But on the up, my meh jeans are feeling looser and I could wear my belt one notch in, if I wanted to. My husband says I look slimmer.


But while I’m a bit disappointed about the slow tummy inches loss, I’m not giving up. Losing fat slowly and steadily is meant to be the best way to keep it off and, even apart from that, I feel so spiffingly well on this regime. Full of energy and good cheer. Much better than I did when I started.

Glancing through the Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer book this morning, I came across a section I hadn’t read before, where they explain the research that’s been done on the positive effect of fasting on mood. That is definitely working for me – and for a moody cow, that has to be good.

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Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

You have to be really obsessive
I’m now at the end of my first four weeks, except it really only counts as three because I squandered the first one, not being meticulous enough about my intake.

I had loads of cups of tea with semi-skimmed milk and finished off what was left of my daughter’s chicken at dinner, without accounting for the calories in either of them and, I soon realized, this really made it all a waste of effort.

If you’re going to do this thing, you have to do it. You have to be utterly anal and count everything you eat, which does take some mental arithmetic as the calorie value of everything is listed per 100g… I have weighed lettuce, which was a new experience, but if you don’t go to those lengths, it’s amazing how easy it is to whack on another fast-wrecking 100 calories.

So from week 2 onwards, I weighed everything and measured out 100ml of 1% milk at the start of each day, accounting for the calories in my daily reckoning.


Find out which fast day meal system works best for you
Michael Mosley has a cooked breakfast and dinner. Mimi Spencer has a muesli breakfast, an apple for lunch and a cooked dinner.

After trying both regimes, I found the resulting dinners too disappointing and have taken the lead of my fasting buddy, Maria, who has been doing it for two months and has lost loads of weight. She eats nothing at all until dinner.

Like her, I find it exponentially easier to eat absolutely nothing through the day than to tease my hunger with little morsels and then I can use all my calories – except for the ones I’ve assigned for milk – for dinner. If I’m desperate, I have an apple at lunch time and take another 50 calories off my evening meal.

Choose your days
It’s important to choose your fasting days on Sunday night for the coming week and stick to them. If you keep changing days, it would be all too easy to accidentally miss one, so I do Monday, then Wednesday, or Thursday, depending what I have on.


Plan your fast day food
Obviously you can’t rely on happening to have the right food in the fridge. I plan my fast dinner the day before, so I can maximise the satisfaction of my measly calories.

I don’t find the food plans in the book very helpful, as they are all for a two-meal day, so I’ve calorie calculated a few dinners which work for me and it’s easier just to stick to them, rather than constantly trying new things. I’m looking forward to the the weather getting warmer (it’s foul in the UK right now) so I can have more salads.

Here’s my menu:
*Chicken breast stir fry, with lots of chili, garlic and ginger, with a 10 calorie pack of miracle noodles – which are bearable if you rinse them a lot before cooking and definitely add to your sense of satisfaction.
*Chicken breast cooked en papillotte (in a tin foil parcel) with garlic and lemon, served with piles of steamed veggies, toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on the top (all weighed, of course…)
*Grilled chicken salad
*Grilled fish with salad, stir fry or steamed veg.
*Smoked haddock baked in the oven with steamed veg.


Black coffee is your best friend
I find having no food all day exponentially, weirdly, easier than I expected. It’s odd. But if I do have a serious hunger pang, black coffee really does the trick. There’s a reason all those slender French women drink so much of the stuff…

So is sugar-free gum
I’ve heard about all the possible (but not irrefutably proven…) health hazards of aspartame, but as a means to an end – to get rid of what is a definite health risk, with the fat around my middle – I’m not going to worry about chewing gum for a few weeks.

It gives my mouth a burst of flavour – I particularly like the new exotic fruit ones – which gets me through the tricky part of the afternoon.

And as above for sugar free drinks. I have a diet ginger beer as my cocktail while I make dinner and I love it.


Weigh yourself once a week – and after a fast day
I have weakly allowed myself the odd ‘in between’ weigh in and it was very disappointing as my weight seems to go oddly up and down day to day.

It’s hard not to worry about the non-fast days
I have rather been torturing myself that the home-made cookies and treacle tart I’ve eaten on my non-fast days are the reason for my slow weight loss.

I keep neurotically re-checking the section of the book which says you can eat what you want on the other five days – cakes, pies etc – but after years of restrictive diet misery it’s just so hard to trust it.

I always go to sleep on a fast day planning the lavish breakfast I’m going to have the next morning – fried bread always features in my fantasies – but when I wake up on that blessed dawn I don’t feel hungry at all. It’s really surprising.


Some post-fast mornings I haven’t even managed my normal breakfast, but once I do start eating I do rather want to eat the whole world. I don’t, of course, but it makes me a bit anxious that I’m mustering all this self discipline to fast and it could be all for nought.

This wasn’t helped when I read one of the many excellent articles Mimi Spencer has penned in the British press on 5:2 fasting in recent weeks, where she mentioned that at the same time she started fasting, she also gave up drinking alcohol entirely.

This isn’t mentioned in the book – it just advises not wasting calories on alcohol during a fast day – and in my moments of doubt, I can’t help wondering how much that contributed to her fabulous weight loss. I don’t drink much anyway, so I don’t think it’s the golden ticket for me, but I felt slightly let down when I read it.


You have to exercise
I’ve now accepted this is where I’ve been sabotaging my efforts. I absolutely detest all exercise except for dancing, sex and walking round shops, but I know I really have to force myself to do it. My successful fasting friend, Maria, is very sporty and gets a proper work out four times a week, plus cycling everywhere.

My other two successful weight loss friends (one’s a committed Dukan-ista, the other swears by Weight Watchers) both exercise that much. I know it’s the answer. So I went to the gym this morning and I’m determined to make it three days a week, plus my beloved yoga for toning.

I’m hoping this will make the difference the next time I report in on my progress, in four weeks time. Meanwhile, we will speak of jollier things… Watch this space.

PS I didn’t want to illustrate this post with any more pictures of empty plates, dismal bowls of salad, or even shots of women whose body shapes I envy, so instead I’ve just put up things which make me happy. Which are:

Treacle tart from the baking blog notsohumblepie; my cat Gonzo, when he was a kitten, conquering the North face of my drawing room curtains; Cary Grant with his poodle; chickens; Gucci loafers; Miranda Hart kissing ACTUAL Gary Barlow in a recent episode of Miranda; Bill Nighy; the Manolo Blahnick Campari pump in patent leather; Cam from Modern Family, saving their special tree in the park (I fell off the sofa laughing when he appeared in this outfit…); Paul Hollywood’s cream buns.





Mary Berry meets Hugh Jackman

In Actors, Men on February 4, 2013 at 10:37 am

Mary and Hugh

One of the things I like best about blogging is the comments. Just like on Twitter, I love chatting to people I haven’t met yet – it’s like being at a global cocktail party – and I really love the great TIPS you give me.

In the past 24 hours Caroline has told me that if you blast your eyelash curlers with a hairdryer before using them, you get a much better curl which lasts longer. In a similar vein, Tracey warned me off having my eyelashes permed, because hers had a ‘weird scrunched’ look after.

Then Lisa told me about this…  Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood on Graham Norton’s New Year’s Eve show last year with HUGH JACKMAN. Shall I shout that again? HUGH  JACKMAN and Billy Crystal and John Bishop.

This can only be filed in the drawer marked TV Heaven. Look at her in the picture above with her hand on his knee… I didn’t think I could adore her more, but I do now. Here’s the clip.

And then because he is just utter heaven, here is a whole lot more of Hugh on the show. He’s funy too. Oh my LORD.

Dusty answer

In Make up on February 3, 2013 at 9:50 pm



Dusty Springfield – another name I could have added to the list of women who shaped my idea of feminine allure. She had a big TV show when I was a kid and I would sit close to the set studying her eye make and working out how I was going to achieve that look when I grew up.

Now I have a new poster girl who I aspire to be like when I grow up a bit more into an older woman – so for those readers outside the UK, may I please introduce, Mary Berry.

Mary Berry

In the UK these days, she’s a Living National Treasure. We LOVE her. She’s been a television food presenter for years, although she’s only come to big fame (and on to my radar) in the past couple as one of the judges on the Great British Bake Off.

It’s hard to convey the traction that this programme has in the British heart right now. We love it as Aussies love Masterchef (and we love our version of that too), but there’s something about BAKING and CAKES and BUNS and PIES, which makes bake off particularly cosy and heartwarming.

The skills of the amateur chefs – including the kids – on Masterchef leave me astonished, but with bake off, I feel a little bit closer to the action. I can make a cake and, thanks to Mary Berry, I can now also make a treacle tart.

I’ve read that an Aussie version of the show is happening this year, so I’ll be interested to hear what it’s like.

The UK one is staged in a very British marquee, complete with jolly bunting, in the grounds of some heavenly country house, with the garden in full summer glory. But the real triumph of Bake Off is the four presenters.


The hosts are warm and witty comedians Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, but the glacé cherries on the top are the two judges, Mary Berry and professional baker Paul Hollywood. Also known as Paul Hubbahubbawood.

He’s middle-aged, quite stout around the middle, with a grey beard – and the most devastating blue eyes since Paul Newman. You really need to see him assessing a Chelsea bun, the killer blues thoughtfully narrowed, to appreciate his appeal, but I don’t know a woman who wouldn’t like his strong hands kneading her dough. I know I would.


But while we all fancy Paul, it’s Mary we adore. She’s just so lovely and funny and warm and wise and chic, with such a twinkle in her eyes (she sometimes tips male competitors a cheeky wink).And best of all, she’s never harsh or negative in her comments; she always finds a positive way to critique the most collapsed of meringues.

On the Celebrity Bake Off which was recently shown in aid of the Red Nose Day charity appeal, TV presenter Claudia Winkelman had a totally disaster with her lemon meringue pie, which arrived at the judges’ table in several pieces.

Paul Hollywood openly laughed at it. Mary Berry smiled warmly and said: ‘Now this one’s been on a journey…’ She’s the Dalai Lama of baking.

As well as her wonderfully positive outlook, the other thing I love about Mary Berry is her style. She wears gorgeous bright shades which bring out the colour of her eyes – a slightly deeper shade of astonishing blue than Paul Hollywood’s.

When I first saw her I thought she was a bit scarily slim for someone who bakes and eats cakes for a living, but have recently discovered that she has the telly presenter’s ideal body shape. She’s a classic British pear, so she looks very slender from the waist up and can hide all her Victoria sponge bulges behind the counter.

But my latest realisation about Mary Berry is the cleverness of her eye make up. Like darling Dusty, she wears false eye lashes all the time, which is what helps to makes her 77 year old face look so bright and appealing.


Of course it’s mostly bone structure and her attitude to life, but the false lashes make her eyes – which get steadily smaller as one ages, I am discovering, to my horror – stand out as they do when we are young. (Sob.)

This could be the answer I’ve been looking for to solve my current ageing eye make up dilemmas, more of which in my next post.

Meanwhile here is a Youtube link to the episode of Celebrity Bake Off featuring Claudia Winkleman’s lemon meringue.


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