Monday, 7 March 2016

Going Grey Or Not? That Is The Question.

Marvellous Mary Beard is courageous for keeping her hair white particularly as she is in the public eye. I don't object to her full white head of hair, but if I was her stylist (not that she would ever agree to a stylist) I would ask her to cut it. I am obsessed with the white and grey hairs along my parting, which are gathering pace. I ignore it for a few days/weeks until the idea of it begins to loom larger than life. It gets to a point when I am talking to people and I'm wondering if they are noticing it; I become more and more conscious of the shadow of wiry white hair on the top of my head and wonder if that  is it all they can see when they look at me?  I say this knowing that most people won't notice too much, but there was a childish man at a party a few weeks ago, who mentioned "the white streak," on my head. (He also calls me "Keith" instead of Kate, going far back to some kind of in joke when he thought I looked like a man in a photograph - as you can see, he's quite a wind-up.)

I used to attend to the diminishing colour in my hair every few months, but I have noticed recently that the white/grey is sprouting more aggressively. When it becomes too obvious, I have a desperate need to cover it up, whether it’s by dashing to the hairdresser, using spay colour, Wow powder (see you tube video below)  or Daniel Field dye at home.  My wiry white and grey hairs appear around my parting. The bold white hairs look messy and let’s face it, ageing.  I wonder what do other women do? As their hair becomes whiter  more quickly do the majority dye it or accept it? I'm sure it must get to a point when it becomes overwhelming. Do dark-haired women use lighter streaks to make the white blend more easily? Do they become blond? How does it work? Do they dye once a week? Surely it would become too expensive to rush to the hairdresser every 10 days or so.

What do you all do?  Please give me some tips!

I will be looking at women in the street (for research) just as I used to when I became pregnant (when suddenly pregnant women were everywhere) or when I had my first child and noticed all the women pushing prams or carrying babies - they too were ubiquitous, now not so much. Recently I have clapped internally when I see older women celebrated and becoming more vital and respected. Why should the older woman be invisible?  There is a new model agency  for women over 35 and  documentaries  featuring fashion-conscious women. There are stylish women over 70  becoming faces of fashion houses - Joan Didion at Celine for example and there is the wonderful Diana Athill, aged 98 and still writing memoirs of her life, giving talks and being interesting. There are plenty of other examples I just don’t have the time to gather them all together.

I was dying my hair at the weekend when my children (age 14 and 11) asked me why.  I did not really give them a satisfactory reply. My son said that if all us women got together and stopped dyeing our hair than none of would have to. I think that if we are to celebrate becoming older, and making the concept less shameful perhaps we should stop dying our hair and botoxing our wrinkles. It should be called the grey haired revolution. But I don’t want to jump first and that is why I admire Mary Beard. Maybe it is just because we have access to botox and fillers and dye that we do remain "youthful" and therefore "vital" and "visible." Sad but true.  I noticed when I went to hear the great iconic feminist Gloria Steinham talk the other night, she was still beautiful and vibrant at 83. Her hair was coloured and there were rumours that she had had "work done." If she is a feminist and dyes her hair and lifts her face, then maybe its not so bad after all. That is what I will tell my kids when they next ask me. I will say:  for the moment, women have a job to remain visible in society and if grey doesn't look youthful on them, dyeing is the way to go.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015


Inviting Guests Over:

When I’m feeling robust, having friends over for dinner seems like such a good plan, but sometimes even the idea of giving a dinner can make me feel weak.  Who to ask? What to eat? I love finding a dish I can prepare before (hate the stress of actually cooking while guests are milling around watching.) My husband is braver; he doesn’t mind sizzling some Red Snapper as the guests are sipping their cocktails. Often, to avoid the cooking anxiety, we find a recipe that works and use it for the next twelve months. We must have presented the same dish to our favourite friends at least two or three times, but hopefully they haven’t noticed or cared.

Once the decision has been made to actually have a dinner, it is time to invite the guests. It is virtually impossible to secure an unattached available man for a single girlfriend. We have one single man friend who has been rolled out several times a year for the last few years, but no match yet. The last time I invited five girlfriends together for dinner at my house, it took at least twenty emails over four days to find a mutually good date and once found and typed into diaries,  it had to be cancelled and renegotiated, as one of the girls discovered she wouldn't even be in London on the original date.

Stress Points/Preparing

Shopping for the dinner in my experience takes more than one excursion (inevitably something will have been forgotten: the vital herb, the sparkling water or the mustard) Or we have to go and buy something for the person who rings up a few hours before to say they can’t eat meat/wheat/gluten/pulses. One woman (a friend of my husband’s) emailed to say she had become a vegan and couldn't even eat honey. We had to remake the salad dressing.

Next we have to push all the surplus mess into the coat cupboard and dump the rest on our bed and plump up the sofa cushions. There is always somebody who arrives exactly on time, just as we are shouting at the children or the cat has thrown up a hair-ball.

Once the guests have accepted, things can still go wrong: The couple you really wanted suddenly have to dropout. Then it’s too late to ask anyone else. Or worse, the girlfriend you really wanted to see is now ill, but she’s going to send her husband anyway.

The Men Who Only Talk About Themselves:

There are times that I’ve been invited to dinner and found myself sitting next to a man who’s more than happy to answer questions about his life, his job, and his career, but doesn’t reciprocate by finding out anything about me. This is boring, ill mannered, arrogant and socially inept. Women don’t do this or at least not in my experience. The last time this happened was at a buffet style dinner. The man in question talked about the time he was studying in France. I heard about his difficulties at work and his son’s new school. We went on chatting about his life. And on. I waited for him to enquire about mine, but that never happened. I made my excuses and slipped away.

The Rude Host

Once we went to dinner with a girlfriend and her banker husband.  As the mint tea was being served, he yawned, looked at his watch and announced to the assembled guests that he was going to bed as he had to get up early. It was ten fifteen. He then turned to his wife and demanded that she should come too. It seemed awkward and odd to stay in the shiny kitchen without our hosts and after ten minutes we all left.

The Cooking Bore

I dread the cooking bore. There are a couple of men we know who fancy themselves as a bit of a Heston or Jamie. One perfectly nice divorced man used to ask us over for 8pm.  By nine we would wonder what was happening about the food, and at nine thirty, after enquiring politely about what we were going to eat, he would start cooking. We would stand around with glasses of wine, watching him beat and marinate the steak. We would be salivating, starving and drunk by the time the food was served at ten thirty, and ready for bed.  We tried turning up half an hour later the next time, but that just meant dinner was served at eleven.

Getting Out of The House

The thing about going out to dinner mid-week is that I am usually tired before we’ve left the house. My normal ideal is to eat with the children at six o clock, have a bath at six thirty, and pajamas on by seven. So when we are invited out to dinner and it’s time to get ready, I momentarily feel exhausted. How am I going to cope with eating so late? Drinking?  Toying with chocolate pudding that I know will keep me up? And who will I be sitting next to? That man who only talks about himself? What am I going to wear? How much makeup do I have to slap on to camouflage the grey bags under my eyes? Mostly my fears are unfounded. Once I’m there it’s all fantastic and fun and we leave feeling warm and glowing and happy. It's only the morning after that the one glass of wine and the chocolate pudding and the fact that I've been unable to sleep till two, that the slump hits.

The Couple Who Leave Early

In fact hosting a dinner party is more of a risk. Things could be going really well until the couple who have a “teenage babysitter leaving at eleven,” stand up and announce that
they have to go. When the kids were young, I was guilty of saying this exact same thing. Knowing you’d be up at six meant you really had to go to bed by midnight, or life the next day would not be worth living. But the problem is that when someone leaves prematurely, the party potentially breaks up. Then you are faced with a deluge of dirty dishes and the inevitable hangover. But when you’ve cooked something delicious, the wine is just right, the friends get on, everybody has laughed,  it’s late but not too late, the pile of plates just remind you of what a good time you all had.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Escape the City - The Park Club

My local health Club, The Park Club in Acton has been open for 15 years. None of us who go there regularly with our children can imagine life without it.  If that sounds spoilt and reminiscent of FIRST WORLD problem in a first world country please stay with me. What  I am trying to say is that life would not be so colourful and manageable without it.  It's an oasis in the City, a break from the sirens, crowds, and pollution. I had been thinking about joining when the club first opened, but the crunch came when I took my toddler daugther (she's now 11) swimming in my local West London Park. She didn't have  a swimsuit to paddle in the shallow concrete pool so she stripped off to her pants and tee-shirt. Half an hour later, a park policeman arrived, ordered her to put her clothes on, and arrested a shady man who was hiding behind a tree.

From then on we went swimming at the Park Club, mostly in the outdoor pool. It's a saviour for those of us who have miniature outdoor spaces.   We could potentially squeeze in a 10' trampoline, (which my daughter desperately wants) into our 'garden' but that's all it could fit.  My son once insisted on installing a football goal in our diminutive patio, and the kids were literally standing in one flower bed to kick the ball two metres into the net which rested precarioulsy against the fence on the other side. The goal lasted a few weeks before it collapsed. Both sets of neighbours were justly relieved that footballs were no longer being lobbed over our trellis into their superior, patios, bedecked not with goals or trampolines, but ferns, and potted plants.

My children have spent hours at the Club playing football, tennis, cricket, making dens and eating supper with friends.  I have spent many mornings working in the bar with my co-writer, or sunning myself on the terrace. I practice Pilates andYoga there, and have just been told by a physiotherapist to use a crosstrainer  to help my weak knee. The gym and I have never really got on that well, but I am glad to have some kind of incentive to get there.

The Club already already seems huge with a massive outdoor swimming pool and 27 acres of land (the only problem being that children literally disappear in the grounds and its not always possible to leave when you want to)  But there are plans to make it even bigger. It has submitted a Planning Application to increase the size by %35 and install new studios, a hydrotherapy pool, steam baths, upgraded restaurants, a new top floor with natural light and a 50 metre pool. Bring it on.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Get The Guests

The last time we had a friend to stay in London, was about 14 years ago, when we lived in a small terraced house in Sheperds Bush with one bouncing boy baby and a thin stray cat. Our son is now a teenager, and the day after his recent 14th birthday, he un-friended me from Facebook, glued himself to his mobile and began to grunt.   Marie (who came to stay with us all those years ago) lives in Paris and is an exact replica of Julia Roberts.  She ostensibly was staying for a night, then revealed she was depressed and installed herself in our small spare room for a week. She spent a great deal of time in bed, so didn’t need much entertaining.

We didn’t move far. We now live in a 3-storey-house, across the road from where we used to live. We have two children. We have a large office space that we share,  a dining room, and a small garden, but no definitely no spare bedroom. A girlfriend was going to stay recently, after a late night, changed her mind when she realised she would have to sleep in my daughter’s single bed, while my daughter squashed between me and my husband in our room upstairs. Just as well. We would have had to search far and wide for a clean towel and sheet.  
Before we were married, we rented a house in the Brecon Beacons for a year and for several weekends in a row we had people to stay.  It seemed like such a fun idea! The sun was out; the view was stunning. We had a lovely spare bedroom and lots of walks on our doorstep. We even bought a visitors book.  We would entertain them well, in lieu of the fact that they had driven over the Severn Bridge to get to us. We cooked lavish dinners and full English breakfasts with a choice of tea. We arranged walks to the pub, friends over for drinks. We changed sheets and washed towels. Picked flowers for their rooms. It began to feel like a B and B. It was utterly exhausting.

I am all for the idea of catching up “properly” with friends which is what all my country friends say about having friends to stay, but I am just as happy to have a spontaneous coffee or a walk in the park in the City. Another thing country folk say is ‘it’s only an hour from London, you must come for lunch.’  I’ve learnt to add a third to the journey time at least!

Monday, 15 December 2014

There's a fire on Christmas Eve! Evacuate. Memories of a Childhood Christmas.

Although I grew up in London, my childhood Christmases were usually spent at our house in Berkshire. The house was on a farm, which we rented from a local landowner and in the winter there were cows mooching around in shit in a depressing pen. In the summer, we would play under the weeping willow tree in the garden and always, without fail, whatever the season, we would act out Cinderella and make the adults watch it over and over again. My friend Pandora would be Cinderella and I would be the handsome Prince. I didn't mind the role, in fact I was a tomboy and enjoyed it. My only downfall was once being asked to be the 'stick' in a dramatisation of Pooh-sticks.

My grandmother (who usually joined us at Christmas) was like a fairy godmother from a children’s story; we all loved her because she was able to do magic. We would choose somewhere to find a little trinket, then she would shut her eyes and say some weird and wonderful words and miraculously we would run off to our chosen site and the prize would be there  (I still don’t know how she did it)

On Christmas Eve, we would leave milk for the reindeers and a glass of whisky and some biscuits for Father Christmas in front of the fire. The next day we woke extremely early of course, to delve into our stockings. There are lots of Christmas Day photographs of me looking shattered, with huge grey bags under my eyes.  In one set of photos, aged about seven, I look particularly haggard, like a tiny junkie. That year, the  grownups had forgotten to put the fireguard in front of the fire as they staggered to bed on Christmas Eve, and the embers must gone awry, because in the middle of the night, my slightly ditzy aunt woke up my grandmother and said she smelt smoke. 

We were woken up by the adults and evacuated outside and told to look up to the sky to see if we could see Father Christmas arriving. It was thrilling and exciting to be outside in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. The fire turned out to be manageable, no fire engines arrived and we all went back to bed.

The next day, Christmas carried on as usual, the only reminder of what had happened the night before was the singed fire surround. We pulled crackers, opened presents,  told terrible jokes, dug out silver trinkets from the Christmas pudding, put on silly hats, watched television, played with our new presents and then felt depressed when it all came to an end.

When I think about Christmas,  I still think about escaping somehow, getting out of the city, and away from real life. Certainly in London, there is far too much traffic over the festive period. London feels blocked and overwhelmed, exactly like I feel. Thank God for online shopping. Christmas is like a fiction anyway, an overblown day of abundance: too much food, too many presents, too many good choices on TV, too many hours being in the company of certain members of our families  whom we never see the rest of the year, There is a sudden visit to Church, a flurry of carols and hopefully some reflection. I'd like to think Christmas was about giving, sharing, forgiving, reflecting and reunions as well as presents, parties and champagne.

I like the idea of being away in a cottage with a roaring fire and a windswept beach.  There would be endless games of scrabble, a few good carols, a short walk into the garden to collect some logs, a long walk along a beach to good pub. Yes bring me a country Christmas every time or failing that a Caribbean or a mountain Christmas will do.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

My Guide to West London

I was recently asked to give some recommendations for where to eat and be merry in West London for an American Website. Below is my very personal and slightly abridged guide, maybe a bit biased to the area around where I live in Sheperds Bush, but not completely so. There are links added, but not to absolutely everything, as my arm got tired. Hope it inspires those of you coming to London for some Christmas Cheer! 

Where is  West London?

West London loosely stretches from Kensington to Ealing; its vibrant mix of inhabitants includes the very rich and the disadvantaged poor. It boasts green conservation areas juxtaposed with urban spaces; boutique shopping and Westfield, the largest Mall in Europe. European bankers and Russians set up home in Holland Park and Notting Hill alongside Jamaicans and Afro Caribbean’s  - long-term residents, who orchestrate the annual Notting Hill Carnival in August. 

What would you do in West London if you wanted to be elegant and have fun?

I would have lunch at the River Café, the elegant Italian restaurant on the River Thames. I would then go shopping at the independent clothes shops, The Cross near Holland Park and The Jacksons in Notting Hill, followed by a massage and a facial at The Park Club in Acton. I would relax afterwards in their 27 acres of grounds with a cup of tea. In the evening I would book a sofa at the Electric Cinema  and snuggle with my husband and get food delivered to me from the Electric Diner next door.

Five Places to Visit in West London

1. Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew also known as Kew Gardens is one of the most famous gardens in the world, with a vast range of rare and beautiful plants, a bamboo garden, Victorian glass houses, 14,000 trees and much more. I love to walk there and just take it all in.

2.Portobello Market in Notting hill  The big antique day is Saturday but Friday is also good if you want to avoid the crowds. Don’t forget to include the Golborne Road too, which also boasts food stalls, junk and antiques for sale, as well as Portuguese cafes selling custard cakes and coffee.

3. A Walk in Kensington Gardens, visiting the Serpentine Art Gallery (free entry) and then The Orangery for tea. The Serpentine always has interesting modern art exhibitions and the Orangery is just a beautiful place to sit.

4. Leighton House Museum is the former home of the Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton, and it contains a collection of paintings and sculpture by Leighton and his contemporaries. One of the best rooms in the house is the amazing Arab Hall with its golden dome, interesting mosaics and walls lined with Islamic tiles. It would be worth visiting  Holland Park afterwards.

5. A jaunt down the river from Hammersmith Bridge to Chiswick House is one of my favourite walks in London. It’s easy to imagine what the city must have been like 200 years ago and the route passes beautiful houses, a few pubs and St Nicholas Church where the artist, Hogarth was buried. While looking at the river landscape, it’s easy to forget that you are minutes away from a huge loud metropolis. 

Best new Restaurant in West London

Bush Hall Dining Room voted favourite restaurant in Sheperds Bush by Time Out readers. The cocktails are great here.

Favourite Restaurants in West London

¬Persian food at Sufi in Shepherds Bush. This is a  unpretentious and cheap, local restaurant. The grilled chicken or lamb and rice are delicious. Also the home-made flat bread.

English Tapas at The Shed in Kensington – little plates of dishes like pork scratchings with apple jam and hake rillettes with dill and marmalade. Although it’s not the most comfortable seating, it’s a really interesting and delicious dining experience.

The Anglesea Arms near Hammersmith is a cosy local pub with a roaring fire. Order a pint of prawns at the bar  or sit down in the restaurant to order seasonal food. 

Good Shopping?

Turnham Green High Street and Chiswick High Street, where there is a good mix of good quality independent food shops, health stores, furniture shops and cafes, including The Old Cinema, a treasure trove of furniture and interesting antiques.

Askew Road, in Shepherds Bush is great for inexpensive local shopping. There is a wonderful butcher, The Ginger Pig that sells Deli goods, organic vegetables, homemade jams and chutneys and extremely good quality meat and Max Inc. an interesting mid-century furniture shop with fair prices.  

Westfield, near the Shepherds Bush roundabout is the largest shopping mall in Europe, and it’s worth a visit, just to experience the sheer size and variety of shops.  There is a pop-up skating ring here in the winter and lots of free and fun happenings. There are also a huge variety of restaurants and cafes.

The clothes, jewellery, furniture, flower stall and shoe shops around Ledbury Road in Notting hill are worth visiting. I Love Gorgeous is an independent children’s shop for girls, selling beautiful dresses with an edge – a perfect gift for a godchild, a niece or a daughter. Anya Hindmarch for bags and Ottolenghi the deli are amongst the array of other independent shops.

What to do in the Evening?

The Bush Theatre  showcases new writers and it’s a small intimate theatre which make this an exciting and affordable evening.
The Bush Hall for original live indie music in a Victorian, music hall setting. 
The Riverside Studios for movies, theatre, eating and drinking
Chiswick House Gardens and Café