The Mystery of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”

We are on an all inclusive summer holiday in Hampshire, aka a staycation at the grandparents’. There are enough bedrooms for everyone to have their room, including estranged separate beds. There’s space on the driveway for the seven million cars* parked outside. There’s a separate tv lounge for the girls to sit in, with a complementary line of parcel tape granny has stuck on the carpet to indicate how far away the children must stay from the television (in case of toppling). We have the run of the cupboards, and much to his chagrin I used up all my dad’s nice Leerdammer slices making a picnic to take the zoo. After five hours at said zoo with the girls and my dear friend who joined us for the day, I then drank the lion’s share of the bottle of prosecco my dad opened to celebrate Persie’s third birthday. Prosecco goes very well with Minion birthday cake.

We are lucky to have people who love us. My not-wicked stepmother, who known as Granny Bee to the girls, always makes a big effort for our visits, putting children’s bedcovers on their beds, getting out the garden toys, stocking up on turkey dinsoaurs. This time around, she also lovingly arranged some magazines and a book on my bedside table.

The book was “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. I saw it and laughed, assuming that either she’d left it there as 1) a joke or 2) because she thought I needed it. I was reading-wise already occupied re-reading “Happier at Home” by my guru, Gretchen Rubin. But I thought I’d ask my stepmum about it.

Me: Thanks for leaving Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by my bed. Was it a joke?
Stepmum: No, it was your mum’s, so I thought you might like to have it.
Me: That book wasn’t my mum’s.
Stepmum: It was!
Me: Erm I am pretty sure that edition wasn’t published until after mum died. It’s definitely not hers.
Stepmum: I’m sure it was…

My brain remembers rubbish like when famous bookcovers changed. So, book nerds, we’re talking about the cartoon cover edition of the famous relationship self-help book. Published in 2002. Three years after mum died.

The next day…

Me: So I checked that book, and that version was published after mum died so it definitely wasn’t her’s.
Stepmum: Is it yours?
Me: Nope. It must be yours.
Stepmum: It’s not mine. I didn’t buy it and I’ve never read it. [The book has a cracked spine. It’s been read].
Me: Well maybe someone gave it to you?
Stepmum: Erm…
Me: Maybe dad bought it when he was doing his counselling course?
Stepmum: I don’t think so.
Me to Dad: Is this your book?
Dad: Non committal response.

So this book, which I suspect has been in the house for about fifteen years, is unwanted and unloved! Nor will anyone admit it’s theirs! I’ve decided to adopt it. Frankly, I do think I need all the help I can get when it comes to communicating with the opposite sex. And can’t help but wonder if that was my not-wicked stepmother’s game plan all along. Even if she didn’t say so.

*Tiny hyperbole but there are currently five cars parked outside. Only two of them belong to us.

The Full Nigella (Writing about clothes and make up) 

But you get ready, you get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
Back to work or the coffee shop
It don’t matter because it’s enough
To be young and in love

It’s enough just to make me go crazy, crazy, crazy

I get ready, I get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough
For the future or the things to come


Lana del Ray – Love

Huge thanks to all of you who told me what you think about this blog, and what you’d like to read more of. If anyone else would care to contribute anonymously by filling out my survey the link is HERE
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I now know that posts about what I’m wearing and beauty stuff are a bit marmite, which I totally understand. And it’s not a gender bias either! However, I wanted to share some of my philosophy about clothes and make up, which I suppose partly justifies writing about it, but mainly to explain why clothes and make up are important to me.

We all understand that clothes and make up can be armour against the world. People talk about putting their face on, but really they mean their public face. It starts when you’re a teenager, I guess, dressing to the part of the tribe, expressing who you are, with that band tee, those DMs, those ripped jeans. And scarily I could be describing my contemporaries in the 90s, as well as the Cambridge sixth formers I see every morning. And maybe it’s because I’m still about 17 inside, but I still I love dressing up. I actively enjoy thinking about what I’m going to wear, choosing outfits, deciding which me to be that day, or tomorrow, or for that event or in that meeting. I enjoy putting on a favourite outfit which reminds me of a lovely time I had. I keep clothes that are too big, because of the memories. But I know when I’m not feeling so good and certain about myself, because then I start buying clothes like, well, like they’re going out of fashion… And the more clothes I buy, the more insecure I’m feeling. It doesn’t take much amateur psychology to come up with the correlation. There is probably a graph I could draw about it. Oh look, I did! Thank you iNotes!


And on to make up, that public face. I can’t bear that certain kind of male who prefers a fully made up face then gets iffy about women ‘faking it’ or ‘pretending’ because make up makes them look all shiny and glamorous and then the morning after they’re a bit smeared and creased and pale and they don’t live up to the hype. I would say that displays an inherent misogyny, of course, and as a feminist, I’m more concerned that women have the right to choose whether to wear make up or not for *themselves*, and it’s not about the male gaze at all.  I look much the same with or without make up. My nose shape is the same. My eyebrows and eyelashes are still there. My skin isn’t ever going to be perfect again, thanks to air conditioning and pregnancy and years of not being able to resist picking it. I like my face, I have nice eyes and lines and a wobby nose and I look like my mum mixed with my dad. My smile is goofy and I’m getting lines. But it’s my face. Never say never on botox, or even an eye lift, in the future, mind…

My favourite make up stories have got conflated over time. The first is when I visited the Bobbi Brown counter in John Lewis before my wedding and said to the make up artist I’d like some nice make up to wear on my wedding day (I did my own, by the way). When I dared to voice my concern about the two products she was using under my eyes, that I didn’t want to look caked in make up, she uttered the now immortal words:

“Better to be caked in make up than look tired on your wedding day.”

This has since apocryphally lost the “on your wedding day” final part of that advice.

 The second story is related to the fact that Rosa and Persie’s dad once met Nigella Lawson. I asked what she was like, because Nigella is totally one of my idols, and he said “She was wearing a lot of make up.” So Bobbi Brown counter levels of made-up-ness are now known as “The Full Nigella”.

I appreciate the way make up has the transformative power to turn me turns me from undead zombie mother in to relatively fresh looking working person. But I realised that my recent purchasing and Full Nigella approach to slapping on the slap, it’s because I was unhappy. I knew I was feeling better on my holiday when I spent a day make-up free. And yeah, it may have been the day I spent mostly in the car, but still, make-up free. I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t worn make up. And then this weekend, I didn’t reach for the products once. I moisturised… and done. And that’s when I knew I was really finally feeling a lot better. I even went to Tesco bare faced. Now that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the search for the perfect coral lipstick for summer, or that I’m going to stop experimenting with my eyeliner (nearly got the flick down), but you know, it’s a less combative approach to the world.

You see, I want to express myself with how I present myself to the world. I don’t want to look like everyone else, even if thanks to fashion and the high street, I absolutely do.  I want to wear my shift dresses to work, and tone my eyeliner to the blue check in the tweed. I want to coordinate my red boots with my lipstick, and put my yellow cardigan on and make people smile.  Certain clothes have the power to give me instant confidence.  Wearing my camo jacket makes me feel cool. Wearing my denim dress reminds me of standing in someone else’s kitchen and being told I looked pretty. I still wear a maternity dress I bought in the early days of pregnancy with Persie, and the memory is of me of keeping a secret, snug and safe, in my tummy.

I haven’t gone to the extreme of having a uniform or a signature outfit. Some men end up that way by default – always the same colour suit, the same colour shirt, and really they only mix it up with ties and cufflinks, and that’s the advantage of formal work attire, I suppose. I read an article about this woman and I considered developing my own real uniform, for about two minutes. Because I really admire those who take this approach. To do it, you’d really really have to know what suits you, and what you like. I understand that much of the appeal of the uniform approach is to do with the removal of the stress of having to make a decision on a daily basis. But, very quickly in my considerations, I realised that to dress only one way, and commit to it, properly, it means you’re jettisoning the opportunity to be someone different that day. And maybe you could do that on the weekend, and that would increase the pleasure of the days you could make that choice, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go there, just yet. Maybe it’s that I don’t yet know how to say “this is me, and this is how I want you to see me, every day”. 

So if I post some pictures of what I’m wearing, or my great new lipstick, it’s not that I’m shallow, it’s not that I’m vapid, and it’s not that I care especially about how I look. Although I am as vain as the next vain person. It’s that I’m telling you something about myself and the me that dress, that lipstick helps me be, who I am and how I feel when I’m wearing it. Right now, I’m wearing yoga trousers and a non-wired bra, my least flattering glasses and the remnants of today’s make up. It’s not glamorous, but it’s real.

Muses 

​My muses are two women who never allowed “the pram in the hall” to stop them from creating. Here’s a picture of the double aperture ampersand frame on what I laughing call my “writing desk” – my two muses, pride of place, reminding me that I ought to stop procrastinating and start writing. Cause, you know, there’s no excuse. That’s why I chose two quotations by them as the descriptions for this blog.

Sylvia Plath, obviously. Enshrined by some in popular cultural discourse as shorthand for some kind of overwrought hysterical wronged woman, the poetry gets glossed over too often for the story behind the headlines. And I’m as susceptible to that as anyone, I think I’ve read all the main biographies, the journals, and then there’s Birthday Letters… At the painful quick, Ted Hughes was a serially unfaithful husband and Sylvia Plath was mentally ill (BPD? Bi-Polar? We’ll never know). Two flawed people, their failed marriage and their children. It’s the poetry that makes their story so unique, the power of the words left behind, speaking through the years. I’ve never really understood why some fans chiselled the “Hughes” off her gravestone. I get that it was in protest at the patriarchal oppression her husband inflicted upon her in death (rearranging the order of her last collection of poems) as in life, but that for me implies a level of public ownership of the poet that just isn’t actually real.  
Sylvia Plath is, for me, sixth form, finally getting poetry, grief, love, and aspiration. She’s in a little part of me, my writing… there is enough of her work assimilated within my own voice me for me to feel the burst of pleasure you get when you recognise an old friend when I read her work.

But as I grew older I put Plath aside as a childish thing, as if I was beyond that intensity, that passion, that longing. Then I came back to her, and developed a new found appreciation. There’s fresh realisation, and another layer of recognition. Re-reading the Wintering poems with renewed interest as bees are one of my own personal symbols of happiness. After years of struggling to improve my own writing, appreciating how she clearly was an immensely talented and accomplished poet. But I admire Plath most now because she wrote her Ariel poems when she was a single mother of two young children.

The world was different back in 1960 and you could live in North London in lodgings for nothing in comparison to today etc and even then Sylvia Plath was part of a creative liberal elite and would have probably had the money for household help but… She did it. She wrote. She wrote, I suppose, because it was her calling, because of the flames of pain and rage that licked inside of her that made her burn so brightly, so briefly, fuelled her. I admire her so because she did it despite being a mum. Despite having to do the baths the teas the park the bedtimes the face-wiping spill-clearing monotonous drudgery of motherhood. Because if there’s one thing guaranteed to get in the way of creativity it’s the inspiration crushing relentless exhaustion of caring for young children.
And so to JK, national treasure. Queen of the Twitter put-down. She’s a bit marmite, you know. Some people don’t appreciate her (yeah, you know who you are). I know she’s one of those lefty liberal rich types and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but she gave so much of her fortune to charity she slipped off the rich list. Above all, there’s something about her that reminds me of a form teacher who’d give a Year 9 girl really good advice, probably because that’s kind of what she is.

The pictures of JK Rowling when she was first published show a woman with long red hair who really could have been Harry Potter’s mum from the description in the book, posing in the cafe where she used to write. I secretly love how glamorous she’s got as she’s got older, blonder, more polished. Yeah, it’s to do with being rich, but also, she’s clearly so confident, she found herself. And she deserves to feel proud of what she achieved. JK did it too. Wrote because there was no option for her but to write. Coffee shop, baby in the pram, she has described so many times how she hit rock bottom, felt like a terrible failure, and… out of it came something magical. She’s not the best writer in the world, but what she’s achieved is amazing.

So since this is *write more* live more, I thought it was important to check in with the writing bit. I haven’t written enough. I haven’t written nearly enough. All the stories, in my head, unwritten. All the ideas in my own personal cloud. This blog. The unfinished novel. Got to crack on and do it. What if I die and no one ever has read my writing? Maybe that’s what the whole of my 35-year-old midlife crisis has been about. Maybe I need to learn a bit from my muses, make the most of my inner fire, and go for it.

Holidays 

There was radio silence for a bit there! Sorry. Simply busy with other things – the Live More part of Write More Live More, I suppose. And of course, I did put out the survey. More on that in another post.

The girls are on school holidays, but of course Hampshire school hols don’t match Cambridgeshire school hols. Luckily my stepmum doesn’t work Fridays, so I took last Friday off and drove us down to my family. The M25 was hell on earth. If ever get to purgatory it’ll be the M25… anyway, we survived the three hour journey and were greeted warmly with a late pizza lunch, and a walk to the park with ice creams followed by a trip to Pets at Home and Home Bargains. The girls thought it was brilliant.

We went to the coast on the Saturday. My girls don’t know how lucky they are experiencing Aldeburgh and then the New Forest! On the journey down I sat in between the car seats in the back of my stepmum’s people carrier, holding a hand in each of mine. When we arrived at our destination there was a road train taking daytrippers to and from the car park and cafe to a golden sandy beach and beach huts stacked in a row. And another cafe. I sat on a rock, paddled a little, and watched Persie run away from the foaming incoming tide. The edges of my jeans got wet, even though I rolled them up. Rosa got sunburnt (bad mummy), but in my defence she was the only one of to do so – we realised later it was because she had been nearer the water and the rays had reflected on her to lovely cheeks. 
I forgot my phone, so no photos, of either the beautiful beach or the girls, tastefully anonymous, or my outfit, which that day was my camo shacket again. The one that looks awesome with red lipstick. Although I was wearing the Maybelline vivid matt nude flush, lipstick fans. My dad, who annoys me all the time, as dads do, asked me as we boarded the little train for our ride “what is this army jacket?” And my stepmum, who is one of the funniest people I know, said “it’s not working, we can still see you.” I chortled, good humouredly, and glowered at my dad in the “regress to teenagerdom” way that seeing my folks brings out in me. Then Rosa pressed the emergency stop button on the stationary train that they had to switch it off with a key, and I told her off until she cried. Parenting fail.

Seeing the girls enjoying themselves with my folks was precious. Persie laughing being read a story (Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman, children’s literature fans) her granny making her giggle as Chu sneezed. One evening we re-watched Fantastic Beasts (it’s a perfect film, in so many ways), another Rosa snuggled up to granny and watched the motorbike racing (don’t ask). My folks took Rosa out for a special day trip just for her while Persie and I caught up with my oldest (longest standing) friend in a picturesque country pub. After our lunch, we deliberately took her for a drive, taking circuitous routes around the country lanes so we could chat as she slept. My friend and I said our goodbyes as Persie snoozed, and for the next two days she asked “Where’s mummy’s friend gone?”.

Since we returned, it’s been very relaxed. I’ve had lie ins. LIE INS MULTIPLE! I’m running down the stocks of my fridge and cupboard, so I ate mashed potatoes with beans for my dinner last night. The girls’ dad has been experimenting with flavoured gins, which is lethal for me, as anyone who knows me IRL will be aware. I visited The Kimono and had my hands *and* feet done. I’ve been to the same cafe three times in two days. I’m reading again. Real actual books from my box of books. Not even on kindle! Gasp! Everyone needs a holiday sometimes, but I’m so glad I’m having mine in the two places I call home.

Today I’m wearing… more shades of grey (and a cold shoulder jumper)

I was dubious about the cold shoulder trend, because, well, I’m a cynic. What’s the point of flashing a bit of upper arm, I’d think, when I’ve spent all my life trying to *hide* my upper arms… And would it make any difference to feeling too hot or too cold? I didn’t think so, and I wrote off cold-shoulders as ridiculous, another way to torment those who do don’t like to show flesh, and therefore not for me.

But then I had a a revelatory moment… and it was the cold shoulder jumper. I’ve never bought anything from Lipsy before, thinking it was for small, skinny types, but I saw this jumper and despite the holes in the upper arms, I had to have it. It’s pale pink, the kind of punky pop pale pink, that cries out for bubblegum lips and smudgy kohl eyeliner… and it’s long sleeved and high necked, so a tiny bit of upper arm reveal can’t possibly be gratuitous.

I wore it on Monday and got the seal of approval with my grey jeans and the ankle sliver above my metallic trainers. After a quick wash, I wore it today, with a flippy floral skirt in pink and grey.   I just love pink and grey together, vibrant shades make the pink pop, but silvery grey and pastel pink are a soothing combination.

The photos aren’t the best, they don’t do either outfit justice.  Or maybe actually it’s just not very flattering, the ribbing and frilling emphasising as it does, curves and bumps.  But I enjoyed wearing it for a change, as after all, that’s the whole point of my fashion posts – to challenge myself to wear things I love, but otherwise wouldn’t.  Pushing my boundaries! I particularly like the way the flip of the skirt and the frills of the jumper echo each other… just sayin’… And yes, I wore it with the smudgy eyes and bubblegum pink lips described in my shopping haul!

Rosa was very taken with my outfit, when I took my coat off this evening she said “Mummy your jumper and skirt are so pretty!” Meanwhile Persie kissed the soft part of my upper arm tonight as I carried her and said “I like this nice shoulder, Mummy,” and carried on smooching it for a bit.  Got to love toddlers.

The observant amongst you will note that I also matched this week’s manicure to the shades of grey theme. This is OPI “No More Mr Night Sky” a purplish grey with a shimmer… Love it!!

IMG_2105

This weekend I wore… several shades of grey and the ankle sliver

MOTHER’S DAY! Rosa and Persie excelled themselves with the help of nursery/school and their dad. Persie in particular has been very excited about this day, because she was making a 3D card which was the receptacle of two chocolates, which she and Rosa ate themselves. On Sunday morning, Persie had a moment of impressive realisation and shouted at me “IS SUNDAY! HAPPY MUVVERS’ DAY!” with true joy. My Waitrose-purchased and school created haul included a card with “I love you Mummy” written in Mandarin (oh yes!), a new Mummy mug and the biggest box of Ferrero Rocher you’ve ever seen. Cue many jokes about the ambassador’s reception etc etc…

And we went to the Suffolk coast! Aldeburgh is one of my favourite places and has been since I was quite young. There is a tiny house along the sea front that used to be painted pink, and I wanted to live in it and write books.  That’s pretty much my ambition still… Anyway, we didn’t have the famous fish and chips, because the queues for both chip shops stretched down the road (seriously!) but we did visit both the Joules shops, Fat Face (OH! So many cardigans of desire!), and had shabby chic tea and cake in a tea room. We also spent a happy forty minutes dropping serious money in Aldeburgh bookshop, where I made the most satisfying purchase of a box of 20 Poems, printed on thick buff card, by The School of Life. When we opened the box to take a look the first poem was so perfect, so apt, I simply had to buy them. The poems in the image are not that poem, which definitely deserves a post all of its own in the future. I can’t wait to find ways to display the cards and to using them for inspiration.

Poems

Finally, we went for a walk along the beach collecting pebbles. The pebble bag weighed more than Persie by the time we went back to the car.  I was delighted that I found a Hag Stone,  a naturally occurring stone with a hole.  I brought it home in my coat pocket, and put on on my windowsill, and seeing it makes me happy.

Clothes wise, I had made a recent purchase of grey jeans, and some paisley patterned springy trainers by Rocket Dog, which I got via Groupon, both items I was very excited to try out. Despite my reservations about the fact that it’s a good few degrees cooler out on the coast, I went for the bare-ankle look. My ankles were cold, I admit, but only because of the wind on the seaside, they would have been fine in town, and indeed today in the sunshine they were not cold in the slightest. No picture of the whole outfit, I teamed the grey jeans with the now-famous and faithful yellow jumper, a great colour combination, and there’s yellow in them paisley trainers, so they tied together brilliantly, and we know that yellow does indeed make me very happy.

The ankle sliver is even more of a thing this spring than it was last year, I’m finding. I was not alone in suffering for fashion in Aldeburgh on Sunday, there were many blue-grey ankles on show, freshly shaved, some with loafers, some with pumps, and some with trainers. Since the cropped trouser and the stepped hem are the new thing this Spring, I think I’ll just have to harden myself up a bit until the weather fits the fashion.

grey stones