Saturday, 31 December 2005

My hand is itching... but...

Happy New Year to you all!

Friday, 30 December 2005

No slap today

I know. Try not to be too disappointed. It’s still the season of goodwill (still!) and I’m taking part in a hit parade (that dates me, doesn’t it?) of the best perfumes and beauty products of the past year. Well, I’m not in the running. You know what I mean. Not so easy peasy as I thought when I foolishly agreed to do it. I don’t try everything that comes out and I’m not sure I even tried ten perfumes/cosmetics in the past twelve months, let alone liked them.

Best of 2005

Cèdre by Serge Lutens
I don’t know how well it went down in France, but this hasn’t been a great success in the US, among my pals at MakeupAlley anyway. The fools! LOL!

For me it was love at first sniff. It reconciled me with tuberose, which until then had made me gag. I was even tempted to retest Tubéreuse Criminelle, also by the Divine Serge and his acolyte Chris Sheldrake, and found I did like it after all. Cèdre doesn’t have the mentholated opening of Tubéreuse Criminelle, which is a bonus really since you get to the ‘nice’ notes that much quicker. It doesn’t have much cedar either, in spite of its name – it’s not Black Cashmere, for instance, but too much cedar can be boring – like in Black Cashmere, for instance. It’s just a soft and complex mix of flowers and spices. I would wear it if I weren’t wedded to Fleurs d’Oranger, which is the best of last year, this year, every year. I’m the faithful kind.

Climat by Lancôme
My own personal fairy godmother sent me a whole bottle of this ‘60s perfume, recently relaunched by Lancôme. Everything about it is beautiful: the bottle is the epitome of chic; the juice is a lovely green; the scent is classic, fizzy (it’s the aldehydes); it lingers nicely. It’s ‘old-fashioned’ in the best possible way (please, no jokes about ‘old-lady’ perfumes!); it’s elegant. “Just what a perfume should be like,” said my partner about it. Yep!

Parfum Sacré by
I’d always thought Caron and I didn’t agree. I was wrong. I think I'd dismissed the whole line because I’d only smelled Fleurs de Rocaille and Nocturnes and hadn’t liked them. Then, a couple of years ago, I received a small decant of Parfum Sacré from an American pal and became rather besotted with it. I kept it on my desk and sniffed it constantly. This year I decided to take the plunge: I bought a bottle of PS from a delightful French eBay seller – one of those bottles with small glass knobs dotted about and a big gold top: very baroque, just right.

I’m so bad at describing perfume (I’m on MakeupAlley on sufferance, you know)! I can never detect all the notes like my friends the real perfumistas. Parfum Sacré is peppery, incensey, powdery, flowery… I’m running out of adjectives ending in ‘y’… it’s warm, soft, comforting… and I adore it.

Divinora Cupidon Lip Pencil by Guerlain
I’m cheating a lil’ bit here: I discovered it late last year, but it’s so good… It’s a shiny, pale, flesh-coloured pencil that restores what I found out yesterday is called the ‘milk line’ in English: that whitish line one has along one’s lips when one is young – it disappears with age, as lips themselves vanish (where do they go?). Line your Cupid’s bow with it and your lips look instantly younger and plumper. Better than collagen injections and surtout less painful.

Correcteur d’Hydratation pour le Visage (remember, light ‘a’ not ‘â’) by
Samuel Par
I found this wonderful face oil on the shelves of my local TK Maxx, which is invaluable for clothes and accessories, etc. but pathetic for perfumes and cosmetics… except that time. I would never have bought it full price but it was drastically reduced for some reason and I grabbed it, because Samuel Par is a great skincare brand. This is a light oil, packed full of delicious-smelling essential oils: lavender, savory, geranium, sage and red thyme. Can you imagine the gorgeous smell? I use it before going to bed. It’s beyond scrumptious.

Lotion nettoyante pour peaux intolérantes by Avène
I developed some kind of allergy to one of my skincare products a few months ago and decided to change my routine – starting with my cleanser. Boots sells the Avène range, which contains spring water from the spa of the same name (the French love spas). The whole range is meant for ‘sensitive and irritated skin’ and this cleanser is different from anything I’ve used before. It’s a light, creamy gel that removes make-up and grime in one fell swoop and doesn’t require the use of a toner. I’m sticking with it.

Rosé Granati Soothing Hand Lotion by
Molton Brown
I was bequeathed a sample of it (don’t worry the giver is not dead: I just like the word ‘bequeath’) and that was it: search no more; thou hast found thy hand lotion hg (‘holy grail’ for the ignorant among you). It smells delicate; goes in beautifully (although, when I want to massage my nails while watching the telly, I use an oily cream that takes an age to go in) and it makes your hand soft soft soft. The best.

Rêve de Miel Lip Balm by
Years and years ago, when N. Kinnaird, the founder of SpaceNK, was on the lookout for original, preferably foreign cosmetics and skincare products, I wrote to her and told her about that brand, which was on sale in the parapharmacie departments of supermarkets in France. I remembered it from my childhood and I knew it was good quality. I never heard from her (she later asserted she’d never received my letter), but within six months Nuxe was on the shelves of the original SpaceNK shop in Covent Garden (it was soooo small!). Do you believe in coincidences? Anyway, I think SpaceNK do not stock Nuxe any longer, now that the products are sold in Boots (a snob, moi?). The only Nuxe thing I use is the lip balm: it does not contain petrochemicals; it tastes of grapefruit and honey, and lasts forever (careful, it does go off: no preservatives, you see). I apply it at night and, in the morning, my lips are as smooth as … (the words ‘baby’ and ‘bottom’ come to mind, but …) Although, yesterday, I received a small tube of Lip Balm by Durance en Provence from a French friend. It's also almost all natural and tastes lightly of honey. My lips, this morning, were as smooth as... so maybe next year, when we do this again, I will have another product to rave about.

There you are! How many is that? Seven. Sorry. Can’t think of anything else. For more recommendations, please visit the perfume mavens listed below (better cut up your credit card now).

Update: I’d like to add a wish for 2006 – a heartfelt wish: I want lip-glosses and shiny, glittery lipsticks to go back to where they came from. I want a return to creamy – or matt – proper lipsticks. Gooey, sticky doesn’t do it for me!

Many thanks to K of Scentzilla! for the beautiful logo above, and to A of Blogdorf Goodman and R of Now Smell This for organizing the whole fun thing!

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Ok, truce over!

All year I look forward to what the TV schedulers have planned for us over Christmas and the New Year. Programmes are usually very exciting, with lots of film premieres and specially commissioned comedies and dramas.

Not this year!

It’s been absolutely dismal so far: nothing but repeats repeats repeats. Films one has seen so many times one can quote huge chunks of dialogue from; old comedies that weren’t even funny the first time round. Nothing, but nothing worth staying home for.

A few years ago I sent the Christmas TV listings to a friend of mine in Paris, who’s a real movie buff. I think there were something like 25 new films being shown over the period. She was suitably impressed and from then on always believed me when I assured her we had the best TV in the world.

I suspect we owe this new state of affairs to the advent of satellite and digital TV. We who rely solely on the five terrestrial channels for our entertainment are left high and dry. We only get the dregs. Subscribing to those new channels is getting more tempting by the day, but I know that too much choice can also be disheartening. (Actually, I’ve just looked at what was on offer on those channels and it wasn’t that good either.)

I adore films, but rarely go to the cinema. I used to go all the time when I lived in France, but got out of the habit when I moved to London: smoking was still allowed at the time and I found it unbearable to watch films through a haze and come out reeking of cigarette. Also, London cinemas didn't show the wide range of films I was accustomed to being able to watch. These days I’m usually in no hurry to see the new releases and until now I hadn’t felt the need to rent out films since I knew that more or less everything that had come out in the previous two years was bound to be shown at some point over the holidays.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much: the wonderful BBC adaptation of Bleak House ended just last week and we’ve been able to see several recent films in the past few months, but this is the time I want to see them, not earlier in the year.

I’m slapping the TV schedulers! Very hard! Slap!!!!

Sunday, 25 December 2005

The first candle has been lit

Happy Hannukah!

Saturday, 24 December 2005

“Grrr!” “Ssshhhh!”

This grumpy old woman has been told she could not be grumpy just now (she wishes she could stop being ‘old’ so easily) so today she will use someone else's cynical words:

“Do not pick up other people's rubbish. It looks a bit obsessive/eccentric... We are suspicious of people who do good things for no reason. Anyone who departs from the principle of overt self-interest is simply weird.” (Lynne Truss in Talk to the Hand)

Let's hope there are lots of ‘weird’ people in the world!

Merry Christmas to All!

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Skincare for the careless

You can always tell when an ad isn’t meant for you. There’s one at the moment for some product from the Nivea Visage (visage, not visâge, btw: light, cheerful ‘a’, not dark, ominous ‘â’) range where a woman says, in one of those raucous voices, “You’ve had a juicy past and the future looks even brighter.”

The word ‘juicy’ makes me uneasy. They’re obviously addressing ladettes. Are they saying that Nivea Visage will repair any damage done to the skin by endless drinks and fags so do carry on with your unhealthy lifestyle, dears? Or are they advocating promiscuity? (If there is such a thing as promiscuity these days.)

I’m not sure I understand the meaning of that ad. As I get older the number of those ads increases and so does my puzzlement.

I feel I should slap Nivea for delivering an ambiguous, potentially dangerous message and for making me feel so out of touch with what’s going on. Slap!

Sunday, 18 December 2005


I moved stuff around my flat yesterday and overdid it a little bit - I'm exhausted right now - so I thought I'd offer you some entertainment.

Here are two short video clips I took the other day - with my tiny digital camera (hadn't realized I could do that before: I've only had it for a couple of years so what do you expect?). If you don't have broadband, don't bother: they'll take about 20 minutes to download - each - and you'll lose the will to live. But if you do - and it works, you will feel as if you're in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, which is exactly where I was when I took them (strange or what?).

London at Christmas

Have fun!

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Ye Olde England

My mother never understood it. None of my French friends understands it. I myself don’t understand it (in the sense that I don’t understand how it can still exist).

What is it that’s so puzzling?

The leasehold system, of course. That legacy of feudal England. So quaint, so ridiculous, so unfair!

I’ve owned my flat for over 10 years, but if I lived another 70 years I would have to hand it back to the landlord – the holder of the freehold, the owner of the land on which my block of flats is standing – and I would find myself homeless at the age of 127.

How preposterous is that? When I buy something I can normally assume it belongs to me – for good. Can’t I?

The leasehold system in London (it’s mostly Londoners who are affected by it) means that, although you may have forked out hundreds of thousands of pounds, you only own your flat for a limited period of time, decided in advance. You have to be aware of it at the time of purchase. If two identical flats are on the market, the one with the longer lease is usually the more expensive and certainly the more desirable: mortgage lenders don’t offer loans on flats with short leases and cash buyers don’t want to purchase them either. When the number of years left on a lease gets dangerously low and the flat becomes practically impossible to sell, you can have the lease extended, but, of course, you have to pay the landlord (again!!!) quite large sums of money for the privilege.

My particular block of flats is run by a firm of managing agents: we pay service charges to cover staff salaries, maintenance, heating, etc. The accounts are audited once a year and no one really argues about how the money is spent. A few years ago residents of blocks of flats acquired the right to buy the freeholds and manage themselves (if the required number of people agreed), but being at the mercy of other owner-occupiers, who may or may not care whether the building they live in is kept in good nick, is a frightening thought. Luckily, others feel like me and would resist any such move. It’s bad enough trying to get things done through an official body; I can’t think how we would fare if, for instance, people living on the upper floors had to beg the ones living on the ground floor to pay for repairs to the lift. The latter might say, “We never take the lift; we couldn’t care less if it never works again.” (I’m on the second floor and I hardly ever take the lift, but I know we all have to contribute.)

Best case scenario:
1) you know your lease will outlive you
2) you have no intention of ever moving
3) you have no heirs and don’t care what happens to your property after your death

What gets me is that we have to pay the landlord ‘ground rent’. ‘Ground’ rent!!! I don’t live on the ‘ground’ floor; why do I have pay that person for the use of his ‘ground’? Furthermore, not all the residents pay the same amount: how can the ‘ground’ be worth a different amount of money if you live on a different floor? There are over 100 flats in my building and the landlord gets ground rent from each of them – that’s a nice tidy sum for absolutely nothing. On top of that, it goes up every 25 years: in 2001, my share went from £100 to £200 a year, i.e. a 100 per cent increase. I was livid.

The whole thing makes me mad anyway so I’m slapping whoever let that feudal system carry on into the 21st century. It's not on. Slap!

Saturday, 10 December 2005

Ugh! Get off my face!

Ok, now that I’ve got Christmas out of my system I can gripe about something else. Phew!

I tried to remove my make-up last night (I’m a good girl, I am: I try to always cleanse my face before going to bed, although, you know, leftover eye make-up is really nice in the morning – you look good without ‘obvious’ help, but, no, I don’t do it deliberately) and I ended up with bits of white tissue all over my face, like a man who’s nicked himself shaving. Blech!

Kleenex has always been the Rolls Royce of tissue – the brand name didn't replace the generic name for nothing. But not any more it isn’t. I use the Ultra Soft ones. They’ve changed the look of the box and I spent a little time searching for that familiar blue box in the supermarket – it's now pale grey with drawings of hands and other parts of the body, but, ok, not much hardship there. However they’ve also reduced the size of the tissues – drastically. They’re now tiny. Still, they’re big enough for most tasks.

But but but they don’t work as make-up removing tools: they stick to the face instead of absorbing the cleansing milk or cream and gliding over the skin. They break up and disintegrate straightaway and you’re left with damp mush in your hands and bits of fluff here and there. It’s disgusting.

They’re not good for blowing one's nose either. The same unpleasant thing happens – only worse. Nasty.

The blurb on the back of the box reads: “Kleenex Ultra Soft tissues are simply a pleasure to touch. Specially soft, they feel lovely against your skin. Kleenex Ultra Soft tissue, the difference is in the touch.” Don’t make me laugh! (And, by the way, shouldn’t it be ‘especially’?)

I’ve already slapped manufacturers and other companies for cheating consumers by offering them products or services that are below par after getting them hooked with good stuff, but usually it’s done over several months or even years. In the case of Kleenex it seems to have happened overnight: the last time I bought a box of those tissues – just a little while ago – they were absolutely fine. Back to scritchy-scratchy ‘big’ and ‘strong’ own-brand tissues, I expect. Oh well, I won’t have to exfoliate any more.

Slapping their un-cleansed corporate face!

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

More money than sense

Apparently, people spend an average of £137 on each of their children at Christmas (still harping on it, sorry). That is a huge amount, isn’t it?, even if you only have the requisite 2.4 children (don't bother to fish out the calculator; I've done the sums for you: it's £328.80). And I believe it’s the poorest people, those who can’t afford it, can’t manage to pay the mortgage or the rent, are already in debt who spend the most on Christmas presents for their kids.

Why is that?

Hype? Peer pressure? Children nagging their parents for the latest toys and gadgets? G-d forbid a child should go back to the playground after the holidays without the desirable play station or mp3 player or whatever! What are parents to do? After all, they do want to stay at least on speaking terms with their children. Ok, I’ll slap the companies making those ‘indispensable’ artefacts. Slap!

Hang on, though, isn’t there something else going on here? Could it be that parents lavish money on their kids because they feel guilty for not ‘being there’ for them? Aren’t they trying to buy their love? I’ll slap the parents too, I think. Slap!

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Tête à claques V

I’ve never met my previous Têtes à claques, but I knew Rupert Everett when he was a young boy. These photos were taken in Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1977: Rupert was 18.

He was tall and thin as a beanpole (an asperge in French – we’re a little more refined in our choice of vegetables). He was gangly, not quite coordinated; he could be bitchy and waspish, but also very very cute.

I first saw him in Stratford in 1976; he used to hang around the theatre day and night and , as I was on holiday, I used to hang around the theatre day and night. That year the RSC had decided to transform the theatre into a replica of Shakespeare's Globe and there were seats at the back of the stage. This young man was annoying me a lot by pacing up and down at the back of the seating area; I kept wondering why he was allowed to disturb the paying public in that way. Then, one morning I saw him with Ian McKellen outside my B&B. They looked very ‘friendly’ with each other. That was ten years before Sir Ian came out of the closet; he was a matinee idol rather than a gay icon and female fans used to mob him at the Stage Door (one of them even threw herself into the Avon to attract his attention). Anyway, who was courting whom, I couldn’t possibly say.

The following year I bumped into Rupert again in London: he was working as an usher at the Warehouse (the RSC’s studio theatre) and already charming his way to fame. He recognized me and we started chatting. We met up a couple of weeks later in Stratford: we were both attending the Shakespeare Summer School and we had great fun together. He was always on the lookout for mischief and together we behaved outrageously (one night we were even thrown out of a very respectable Chinese restaurant). He returned to London at the end of the week and we didn’t see each other again for another year.

Then, one afternoon, in Paris, I got a phone call from him, “Please come and bail me out. I’ve crossed the Channel without a passport. I’m at the Hôtel Meurice, on the Rue de Rivoli. I'm hungry. I've got no money. I'm going back tonight. I don't know what's going to happen.” By chance another actor friend was staying with me. He knew Rupert too, by sight. He was extremely amused and agreed to go with me to rescue him. We found him lounging on a sofa in the beautiful lobby of that most luxurious of hotels, writing a letter with a pen and a pad lent to him by one of the commissioners. He stood up languidly to greet us and, on the way out, offered to return the writing implements, but the commissioner told him to keep them with a huge smile – totally under his spell. We took Rupert to Angelina (a very posh tearoom) next door and plied him with tea and cakes. We had a whale of a time. Later, he borrowed money from us (“Rupert, you still owe it!”) to pay for the fare to Gare du Nord, and he left as nonchalantly as he had appeared. No doubt he charmed passport control too, later that evening.

In 1981 I went to see him in Another Country, at the Greenwich Theatre (before the show transferred to the West End). He was the same old Rupert. He entertained me with stories of the other actors in the play (one of whom was Kenneth Branagh). That was the beginning of his rise and rise to stardom.

I’ve seen him a couple of times since then, but not recently and if I had I probably wouldn’t have recognized him. He’s had plastic surgery: a brow and eye lift, and cheek implants, they say. He doesn’t look like himself any longer.

Rupert, I’m slapping you for spoiling your good looks – even more than a few wrinkles would have.

Thursday, 1 December 2005

The worship of Mammon

Some years ago a romantic comedy changed the face of a whole area of London. Notting Hill triggered the gentrification of Notting Hill Gate (by the way, there’s no such thing as Notting Hill). I lived in that once-bohemian neighbourhood for 16 years. At the time it was known for its antique shops: they were everywhere (Portobello Road, Ledbury Road and Westbourne Grove especially were lined with them). I once took a cab from the West End; when I told him where I wanted to go, the driver said, “Oh, I know that road [it was a very tiny one]: there’s an antique shop on the corner.” We both hooted with laughter.

I went there this afternoon and some of those antique shops – as well as other businesses – have been replaced by branches of famous designer stores or chichi boutiques and art galleries. Westbourne Grove is still a mixture of high- and low-end retailers, though. There is an extraordinarily luxurious jeweller’s – its frontage is so grand! – next to the Oxfam Shop where I used to take my unwanted belongings. A few landmarks are still in place: the small post office that I used to visit every other day to mail my translations, before the advent of the email, is still there next to Tom’s delicatessen, which was an old-fashioned beauty parlour when I first settled in the area, in 1979 (it was one of those apparently jinxed shops, until Terence Conran’s son turned it into a successful café and posh grocer’s). The road gets steadily grottier as one approaches Queensway, although an expensive Italian traiteur has taken over the Pakistani grocer’s where I used to be welcomed like a long-lost friend on the rare occasions I went there to buy a loaf of bread.

I try to stay away as much as I can because it hurts: I could have made a killing and retired early, had I sold my flat in 1996 instead of 1995. Every time I go to the area I discover new weird things, some less pleasant than others. Today I came across a church that was renovated fairly recently: it's still a church (albeit an ultra modern one), but part of it houses a boutique and an art gallery, and I think there are flats on the upper floors. The last time I’d walked past it I hadn’t noticed how outrageous that was – perhaps because it had been in daylight: I hadn’t suddenly come upon the incongruous spectacle of a church building with brightly lit shop windows on one side. It seems to embody all that is wrong about that area now.

A little while ago I discovered that the nearest synagogue (in Brook Green) had been turned into a Chinese temple. I can just about accept that – although it saddens me, but the transformation of a place of worship into a shop I find truly shocking.

Notting Hill Gate has lost its soul.

A slap to the makers of that film – their influence has been an evil one.