Am I the toiletry industry’s wet dream?

This morning, I counted up how many different products I apply to myself before I leave the bathroom.

Turtle-neckEarly on in my yet-to-be-published novel, SINGLED OUT, my main character, a woman in her 40’s readies herself for the day. It seems to amuse people that her make-up routine is, shall we say, comprehensive. This has been insightful, as her exact routine used to be my own in the days when appearance was everything and I faced customers and prospects on behalf of one global technology company after another, every working day. Safe to say, as a home-based freelancer, I’ve let myself go a little since those high-pressure days.

And yet… I remain in thrall to the toiletry and cosmetics industries. It seems I cannot rise in the morning without recourse to no less than 23 jollops, unguents, creams, lotions and potions. And that’s before I begin my now significantly curtailed make-up routine.

Impossible, I hear you cry! Well, here it is, this morning’s precise schedule of application:

  1. Toothpaste – a minty-fresh dental drenching
  2. Gum gel – yuk, temporary measure only, I hope
  3. Mouthwash – yes, I do love that minty-fresh feel
  4. Soap – duh
  5. Shampoo – twice, primer and undercoat
  6. Conditioner – topcoat
  7. Shower cream – soap is for the basin, bottled jollop in the shower
  8. Ph-neutral wash – muse no further upon this
  9. Shaving mousse – see, I still have some self-respect left
  10. Deodorant – what did the old advert say… may your armpits be charmpits?
  11. Hair mousse – it’s purple, does it really make my highlights gleam, I wonder?
  12. Anti-ageing serum – meant to sound medical, but off-the-shelf from Boots
  13. Face cream – I think this one actually does a job
  14. Eye cream – a micro-pot of magic with an earth-shattering price tag
  15. Talc – summer… summer
  16. Body lotion – scrummy one infused with tiny flecks of something gold, summer indulgence
  17. Athlete’s foot cream – purely pre-emptive, as I love to swim
  18. Heel balm – ditto above
  19. Lip salve – I keep a half-dozen of these dotted about the place
  20. Hair putty – gravity-defying sticky stuff
  21. Hairspray – I’m an 80’s girl, so shoot me
  22. Hand cream – I go back to this at least 5 times a day, but it pays off
  23. … last but not least, I can’t leave the house without a squirt… Eau de Parfum

As far as make-up goes, my significantly curtailed routine still involves eight products on an at-home day and ten on a going-to-a-meeting day.

You might call me a little OCD – and I would of course protest. But as a woman with a bathroom all to herself – I get all the cupboards, all the shelves, all the drawers, every flat surface, the whole dressing area, all of it – I can give free-rein to my corporal indulgencies. So I do.

Just don’t ask me if I line my jollops up facing forward with exactly, precisely the same space between each one.

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What a difference a decade makes

Time passesOne of my blogging buddies, the often bemused but sublime Dylan Hearn, blogged on Suffolk Scribblings recently about a friend reaching their 40-year milestone.  I wrote about a similar experience not so long ago, on my now defunct first-pass at a blog (yes, if at first you fail…). Dylan’s blog made me think my age-related musings might be worth a re-airing.  I admit, it’s a bit off-topic but you let me get away with my rant about the colour pink the other day, so perhaps you will indulge me again:

A friend who turned 40 wrote to me: First day of 40, so far so good; nothing fallen off, changed colour or shrunk and no additional wrinkles.

I thought she might like to know what she has to look forward to:

By the time she hits her next Big One, things will be different. There will be crevices appearing, several of them – to call them wrinkles would be to do them a disservice. Valleys of doom, perhaps, canyons of dismay…. not simple wrinkles.

As to colour – her hair will begin to go monochrome in parts – she should not lose heart though, as she’ll be able to pull out the dull ones for a while. But she must remember to stop once the ratio of monochrome to colour turns against her. Where her hair loses, her skin will gain. Her once peach-like flesh will acquire a varied tonality, ranging from pale and pasty to florid, through rashy and spotty, to blotchy. It will flare from time to time in approximate response to something she ate or more likely drank, or when some thoughtless younger person turns up the thermostat.

A moment more on hair… there will be a day, one day, when she encounters a firm, unyielding protrusion on her chin. She will prefer to think of it as a hair but it will in fact be her first whisker. Others will follow.  It is an immutable law of nature.

As to shrinkage – my only experience is of the polar opposite, a waistline exploding outwards, a pair of chins blowing up like helium balloons and a cup size heading towards the middle of the alphabet (though this is not going entirely unappreciated). If anything shrinks – anything at all – she must praise the gods.

My friend’s birthday gathering took place at a cool and quirky restaurant – the sort of venue designed to make 50-somethings like me feel properly ancient. A gaggle of women of all ages, the mood enhanced by repeated selections from the cocktail menu, and conversation ranged widely.  Yes, we ladies know how to get to the nub of things, Loose Women stylie; and there’s nothing like a tray of Long Island Iced Teas with champagne chasers to drive the tone of the conversation along ever more intimate highways.

Age played a part in the talkabout, of course it did: the twenty-somethings still expected to meet the man of their dreams (aaah…); the thirty-somethings still hoped to have a family, one day, but not yet, please not yet; the forty-somethings were either experts in GCSE revision topics, or had become the fount of all knowledge on matters concerning the preservation of what remained of their fertile state. Advice abounded, from performing upside-down gymnastics after sex, through womb-level acupuncture to acquiring loose cotton underwear for ‘the boys’.   The fifty-somethings, befuddled on a tiny fraction of what we used to be able to drink, blotchy-necked and sweating from every pore, exchanged tips on the ins and outs of HRT and the best eye cream to ward off the crows-feet.

But it was a riot, yes, it was good – as nights-out go, it was one of the better ones. And you know the best thing? It was lovely to see the many facets of my wonderful friend, our friendship now of some 25 years standing, reflected in this spirited and affectionate gathering.

In praise of Costa

My coffeeI had some retail therapy to attend to, so I headed into Uxbridge early this morning. I fancied kicking off the day in my local Costa Coffee, loading up with caffeine before attacking the shops. I took my writing practice notepad since mornings are my time for this new habit. Fifteen minutes on ‘a jewel’ and I was done – not one of my more inspired mornings, I admit.

At 08:30 and before the shops open, Costa Coffee is a haven, comfortable and subdued; a few early customers like myself, but none of the hectic crush that a busy shopping Saturday will later bring. The counter service was cheery, my Americano strong and delicious, my toastie crisp yet gooey and brought to my table. Seal’s Kiss from a Rose was the first track on the playlist I noticed and it was followed by a swell of Central Perk style mid-market soft rock. All very nice and right up my street.

The minutes nudged towards 09:00 and the business of beverage was well underway. Coffee machines whizzed, clanked and hissed, plates and cups clattered, the fridge displays rattled and the air conditioning hummed – all composing a vibrant mechanical backing track that was not at all unpleasant. Conversations ebbed and flowed – regulars acknowledging each other, friends meeting up, two guys behind newspapers sharing occasional observations, someone debating the climate of gun crime in South Africa; several accents in English, a chatter of Polish I think, perhaps from behind the counter.

A blast of chill air funnelled round from the door every time someone entered – I don’t mind this either since I’m at that age when I seem perpetually to feel too warm. A man came in, wrapped in a donkey jacket and woolly hat, a young girl grabbing a take-out cup, another swaddled in fake fur; a young mother struggling with a push-chair adorned with colourful toys, a teen in skinny jeans and giant headphones that looked like earmuffs.

What is it about the aroma of fresh coffee and toast? It takes me to a place of comfort and warmth, of pleasure in small things, of calm contentment. Of all the myriad coffee shops where I live – and there are too many – Costa is my favourite. I love the cosy burgundy/brown decor, the fact that there’s always somewhere to sit, upstairs if not downstairs – if you can survive the giant spiral staircase without decanting your beverage on to unsuspecting customers below. I’m not somebody who shows up every day, only every once in a while, but when I do, Costa rewards me with a heartening half-hour.

Hot flushes of inspiration

I’m in my early 50s (best to be honest about it) and lately, menopause has hit me like a blow to the solar-plexus, followed by a punch on the nose and a kick in the shins. I lie wide awake at stupid o’clock drenched in rivers of perspiration; my nights are spent whipping the duvet off, then on, then off, then on again – windows open, windows closed.  Throughout the day, in a dumb stupor through lack of sleep, I flush at inopportune moments, heartbeat galloping out of my chest.  I’ve acquired itchy-scratchy, eye-watering allergies for the first time in my life.

My waistline has exploded outwards and I’ve waved a fond farewell to my once cuddly hourglass.  My chins (two at the last count) have blown up like helium balloons, much like my ankles on a warm day, and I boast a cup size which is heading towards the middle of the alphabet (well maybe that’s not such a bad thing).

Befuddled on a tiny fraction of what I used to be able to drink, blotchy-necked and sweating from every pore, I spend nights out with the girls exchanging tips on the ins and outs of HRT and the best eye cream to ward off crows-feet.

Worst of all, my head is full of cotton-wool; I forget names and faces and I can’t locate words that I’ve known for ever; my fingers find all the right keys, but all in the wrong order.  If I don’t write it down, it’s gone for good.

But for all this mid-life fun-and-games there’s an upside, and it’s this – a conviction that now is my time.  And as the cliché goes, if not now, then when?  So I’m fighting mental meltdown, myriad distractions and my sticky, blurry eyes to give free rein to the would-be novelist inside me – just to see if I can.

So far I have 45,000 words laid down and a clear outline for the 45,000 or so more needed to complete the first draft by Easter 2012.  Beyond that point, there’s everything to play for.