Sunday, 27 February 2011

Glamming up

Ok, so I don't like to think that I'm vain, but I am due to speak tomorrow at a Beauty Industry breakfast, where the audience will be full of Beauty Editors from the kinds of upscale magazines even I in my hermit-like novelist state have heard of (Vogue, Marie Claire, Harpers). And while normally I wouldn't worry about stepping out of the house without make-up (applying make-up has never been my strong suit, and you know what they say about lack of practice) I do just worry that I might be the only ungroomed person in the room.

It reminds me of when people find out I'm a psychotherapist and they assume (incorrectly, as it happens) that I am at that moment reading their mind. Knowing I'm about to stand in front of lots of people who write each day about beauty and make-up, I am stricken with terror that the wrinkles I've lived with for years, the colour of my mascara - which I have also lived with for years - even my haircut, will be under silent and severe scrutiny. Forget nerves about my speech, suddenly I'm highly anxious about what I look like.

Hence today's trip to the hairdressers (thank heavens for Sunday opening) and the eyebrow threader - not least because beautifying ourselves makes us feel confident and in control. With make-up or other beauty rituals, we acquire an aura of confidence. Because, as someone somewhere once said, We're Worth It.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The need to read more books

I have just returned from a Reading Weekend. That's reading as in books, not Reading as in near Slough.

But a Reading Weekend... Its very existence, the need for such an apparent luxury, is perhaps a sad commentary on our times. That our lives are so busy, so frenetic, that we should consciously need to create space in which to read.

These heavenly weekends the brainchild of Damian Barr - Salonista, Wit, super-host and owner of some jazzy striped pyjamas - and are held in the breathtaking Sussex countryside at Tilton House. Tilton is a treat in itself, being a gorgeous Georgian property five minutes walk from the Bloomsbury hangout, Charleston I fell totally in love with Tilton, and if I wasn't such a London girl would move in permanently.

The weekend is extremely chillaxed (see ref to Damian's PJs above). Log fires, a funny dog called Barclay, beautifully-maintained gardens, bottles of damson gin and divine food all compete for your attention. But I did managed to read the whole of Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes, make new friends (including with Laura Lockington, author of the wonderfully funny memoir Cupboard Love) and spent Saturday evening listening to writer Geoff Dyer read his hilarious short-story about the perils of picking up a hitch-hiker.

But seriously, a weekend set aside for reading? I loved every single minute, but on the train back I couldn't help feeling wistful for a time when reading was just something we did, not something we have to diarise. In books we can escape, explore, confirm and play - all vital activities for our ongoing wellbeing. The author Philip Womack has recently conducted a kind of survey to check that people are still reading books on the underground. They are - phew! - so all is not lost, but perhaps it's not too late to make a new year's resolution to read more from books each week, not just save it up for magical but rare weekends in Sussex.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Yesterday I was invited on to LBC Radio to talk with the presenter, Nick Ferrari about a story in the news to do with endings. The story in question was the 38 armed forces personnel who were told they were being made redundant by email. We discussed the brutality of such a method - a clerical error, the army, admits - and also ways in which the redundancy conversation can go better.

In our lives we talk often about a 'good enough ending'/ Patients in therapy hope to achieve it, especially if in their lives other endings have been messy or traumatic. We speak of wanting a 'good death', by which we mean without pain or suffering, perhaps surrounded by loved ones, or even in our sleep. But even vague endings, like the end of a pleasant evening out with friends, can mobilise in us a wobble about how to do the ending. We make promises about calling soon, we must do this again, I'll email you. We can't bear the end without making some attempt to confirm future meetings.

This is because human beings hate endings. They remind us of death. Redundancy is one such ending - which might explain why we have created so many euphemisms (letting go, downsizing) for what in effect is the end of a job, the end for some people of a career, and certainly the end of a phase in someone's life. When your identity is bound up in your job, this ending can deal a severe blow to your self-esteem.

Identify the hidden endings in your life, in your day. Accept them for what they are, and find space to acknowledge the end - to mourn them, even - even if it's just the end of a successful meeting. And remember that creating balance in your life will help mitigate those moments when something, big or small, comes to an end.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Valentine's Day

And a happy Valentine's Day to you all.

But seriously, isn't it all getting a little bit out of hand? I don't want to sound churlish - and yes, I did get a) a card, b) a scented candle and c) dinner out (on Saturday, when we can skip the faux-romance laughably implied by over-priced set-menus) - but do you really have to spend a lot of money, or any money at all, to say 'I love you' nowadays?

Because isn't it all getting a bit like Christmas, where so much is made of how happy everyone must be that those not in relationships are in danger of being made to feel inadequate? True, I can still recall the thrill of receiving my first proper Valentine's card that wasn't from my Dad. But it's a day to celebrate all kinds of love, not just romantic love. And it's a day to be authentic.

I tapped in to my inner child made Nigella's Love Buns, complete with home-made hearts...

Thursday, 10 February 2011

World Book Night

Yay, I've just received an email telling me that I'm to be a 'giver' in World Book Night, on Saturday 5th March, an initiative in which one million books will be given away free.

My novel is 'One Day' by David Nicholls, a fabulous novel where we follow a couple's relationship on the same date each year over 20 years. It's an excellent conceit and makes for some good irony and poignancy. I loved it and hope that the 48 copies I have to give away will go to people who will be similarly rewarded.

I shall be giving some copies away at the mental hospital where I work, and to commuters at Victoria Station. Will keep you updated here as to how I get on.

But what a fabulous initiative - a million books, given away for free. Reading for pleasure, in every sense of the word.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Internet Safety Day

Am feeling very post-modern, Facebooking, Sky News-ing & Tweeting about internet safety. The adolescent brain has poor impulse control and reasoning function. So, what's our excuse...?

I'm blogging and you're reading me, yet we aren't meeting face-to-face. We think we know the score, that we can evaluate this relationship, that we're not street-wise but rather net-wise.

But it's as well to remember that there can be no substitute for human interaction. I've just taken a break from writing today to have a carrot & ginger juice (she had spinach juice, I am such a wimp...) with a new-ish friend who is full of energy and positivity. I felt the warmth of the real sun on my face - not the over-cooked heat of it streaming directly through my garret windows - and smelled the delicious cooking smells in the cafe. And now I have a final burst of creativity before the day is out which I put down to leaving the computor alone for a while and going out and having a life for half an hour.

Internet safety isn't just about filters and childproof locks and being aware of how split-second decisions to text that boy who fancies you in Year 11 can lurk forever on the world wide web. It's about having the courage to pull out the drip once in a while and really live.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Sunday lunch

With the hurricane thrashing about outside our London home, thoughts naturally turn to cosy suppers and hibernation. Warming food, with fats and carbohydrate, is good for the body and soul, providing - above all - insulation. But every so often, it's good to kick start the system and play around with routine. So for today's Sunday lunch - despite a sky outside which could have been painted by Turner in a rage - we're off to the Maghreb for some spice and sizzle. A stuffing for the roast chicken made with chorizo and almonds, a pungent bowl of chermoula (a pickled lemon and garlic salsa, usually served with fish, but I love the way the citrus tang snuggles up to the chicken), thick yoghurt sprinkled with mint and pimiento. And some wicked roast potatoes - because there will always be some aspects of Sunday lunch which are sacred...

What's your recipe for the tastiest Sunday lunch?