Wednesday, 23 April 2014

It's All Go Here At Master Chuff - Ladies & Gentlemen, Let's Cook - Tomorrow

Greg and John - would be traumatised by a visit to Hobbis Towers

Having watched Masterchef for what seems like eons, I now feel qualified to throw together a sea bass on a bed of 'foam', cobble together cranachen and do something improbable with venison and blackberries. Unfortunately I have discovered a law of the universe so baffling that even Rhonda Byrne would have trouble hiking an enormous camera crew and numerous American Law of Attraction experts across Bondi Beach to explain it in one of those waffly self-help type films - the number of cookery books you own is inversely proportional to the amount of cooking you actually do - and worse, the level of skill you will attain.

I suspect this can be quickly validated by looking at the success of food blogger, anti-poverty campaigner and meal-on-a-budget expert Jack Monroe. Her cooking pizzazz is borne of necessity and uses minimum equipment and no fancy ingredients.  I have a kitchen cupboard stuffed full of the most random and hotch potch collection of ingredients which appear whenever I have a new cookery book and kid myself that I will finally try to whip up something to tempt hubby's tastebuds. The mere suggestion of this is enough to make him hide in the cupboard under the stairs until what he considers to be one of my latest hormonal onslaughts has passed.

I think lots of us equate food with love.  Us mums are supposed to be legendary cooks, aren't we? Aren't we supposed to arm wrestle each other for supremacy of our Yorkshire pudding or roastie production skills? Our apple crumbles are supposed to be bottomless, our rice puddings skinless and our lasagne worthy of praise from Gino. I'm afraid my culinary CV would simply state "burns pans and creates smells".

Still, whilst Ieuan is still vegetable averse and, as we tell him daily, never likely to grow higher than four feet, nor develop the motor skills to even put a Spiderman suit on, we are still in the "fishfinger years".  The kids seem to be doing fine, despite having a fear of gravy and the husband, well, hands up, he tends to do most of the cooking.

Perhaps I'll enter him for Masterchef.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Review: The Clarisonic Aria from - Music To My Skin

I remember, in the 1970's having a facial scrub brush which was a simple battery operated device that would cheerfully exfoliate the skin. It got abandoned in due course because a heavy duty scrub, like Apri (an apricot shell scrub) would do the job just as well. And, having young, healthy skin didn't require much more than a light buffing.

Fast forward to today, just seven weeks short of my 50th birthday and my, how things have changed. Two young kids (aged 6 and 4) both born in my mid forties have created, understandably, a massive shift in my beauty routine. What used to be a regular cleanse, tone, moisturise routine has now been generally reduced to a quick spruce up with a facial cleansing wash, removed with a flannel twice a day. I've always been quite careful to avoid the sun so I don't think I am too wrinkly but the healthy glow I used to have has vanished in favour of making sure the kids do their teeth and getting them either out of the door or into bed on time.

The opportunity to test the Clarisonic Aria from came just at the right time. And it is a seriously sophisticated piece of kit. Fully rechargable, portable and programmable, the Clarisonic cleanses up to 6 times more effectively than washing your face by hand. It has three speeds and comes with its own drying stand which also becomes a charging unit by addition of a magnetic USB charger.

I love to read beauty blogs but am often deeply suspicious at 'rave reviews'; by the time you get to 50, you have used a lot of products and generally feel that there is little new under the sun(screen)! But, cynic that I am, I have to say I noticed an immediate improvement in the tone and colour of my skin. I haven't worn foundation for ages so friends and family are used to my slightly less than fresh pallor but my hubby remarked (without prompting) that the Aria had given my skin a healthier tone.

My skin looks better than it has in ages.

The brush is very easy to use and has timer settings to guide you. You hold the brush against your face and move it in gentle circles for 20 second on your forehead, 20 seconds on your nose and chin and 10 seconds on each cheek. That's it. One minute! In your kit there is also a sample size of refreshing cleansing gel which has lovely fresh smell and lathers up with just the smallest amount. It is recommended that the brush head (which is detachable) should be changed once every three months or so.

I agreed to test the Clarisonic Aria for a period of 5 weeks after which the brush would either be returned or purchased at a discounted price. This seems to me an entirely sensible approach to testing a product like this because it is easier to be truly objective when you are considering investing in your beauty routine.

The Aria retails around the £155 mark, however, being a fan of spa treatments, it was easy to compare against the price of a good facial which, here in Cardiff is around the £70 mark. Frankly, the results given by the Aria after just a couple of uses are better – and I just used it once a day, whereas it can be used morning and night.

I quickly got used to cleansing with the Aria each morning and would now be loathe to part with it, such is the difference it has made to my skin. I also think that proper cleansing has made my moisturiser work better and the discipline of having a routine again, albeit one that finally fits in with the kids, has made me want to take better care of my complexion. Another knock on effect is that my improved skin has made me more enthusiastic about using make-up again – a light BB cream and blusher – because a heavy foundation is simply not needed.

If you have become lost in the mire of new cleansers and the latest high tech ingredient, my advice would be to try the sonic power of the Clarisonic Aria because you may find it's not the cleanser that makes the difference, it's the cleansing technique. And, for the price of a couple of salon facials (and far less than some of the top of the range moisturisers and cleansers), the Clarisonic Aria is an incredibly cost effective way to get great skin.

Disclosure: I was given the opportunity to test the Clarisonic Aria on a return free of charge or purchase at a slightly discounted price basis from  All the views expressed herein are my own.  And yes, I will definitely be purchasing it!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

You Can't Afford Fear - GO HAVE YOUR SMEAR


It's fair to say that the husband is fully familiar with many of the University Hospital of Wales gynaecological corridors.  (That's not a euphemism by the way). This week he was there to hold my hand (or at least read a book on complex computer coding in the same room) whilst I had a colposcopy.

An abnormal smear result meant I had to attend for an examination of my cervix.  Now, lest you think this is all too much information - and I have to say I feel slightly squeamish even writing about it, I want to make a very important point - of which more later.

Leaving aside the fear engendered by a typically uninformative NHS letter (dear blah, you may, or may not have something wrong with you and in order to avoid any medical negligence claim whatsoever, we're not about to indicate what your results really were, leaving you to worry just a tinsy winsy bit), the thought that the old bod might be even more defective than even my legendary pessimism accounted for, threw me into a tailspin of gloom.

And of course, I did the worse possible thing - I Googled it.

Attending the hospital appointment with designs for a huge Victorian marble mausoleum swirling in my head (if you're going to go, go in style I say) and having extracted a promise from the Sybil that she would ensure my tomb would be keep pristine white (although she did mutter about being "out of vim"), I sat like a naughty child in front of the headmistress, awaiting my fate.

What I had not been told (and frankly I thought I should have) was that since my abnormal cells were glandular, I would automatically have to have a Lletz treatment where a patch of abnormal cells are removed using an electrified look and then sent off to a lab for a biopsy.  The two nurses couldn't have been nicer although the procedure is not entirely without discomfort, despite the administration of local anaesthetic (the same dentists use apparently).

What was relevant though for women everywhere is that because I had not missed a single smear, my results were there for the colposcopist to see and she could tell that any changes were recent.

If you have an abnormal smear result, it does NOT mean that you have cancer, merely that there are changes to your cervical cells which may become cancerous over time.  If you do not attend for your smear (and I was told that some women have as much as a ten year gap between smears), you could effectively be playing Russian Roulette with your health.  Because, the quicker an abnormal result is identified, the quicker any potential dealings with the 'Big C' can be dealt with.

I know that having a smear is not always a pleasant experience but compared to later medical intervention, it's really not so much of an effort, is it?

We are lucky in the UK to have a system which identifies and deals with changes before they become real problems and I have never understood why women baulk at taking advantage of this.

I am waiting for the results of my biopsy and the staff say that the prognosis is good, although I must confess I am not looking forward to the waiting period.  It is hard not to give in to rather black thoughts but I am comforted by the fact that the likelihood of there being anything really horrible present is very low.

On the other hand, if I had NOT gone for a smear and these changes had not been picked up, this could have been a far more gloomy post altogether.


Friday, 28 March 2014

Nearly 50 - You Can't See Me - Right?

Can anyone see Joan Collins?  Completely invisible at 81

In the acreage of unmitigated cobblers that passes for journalism in the "wimmin's section" of the tabloids, the latest neurosis du jour for us 'middle youthers' is that, come 51, a Harry Potter cloak of invisibility will shroud the menopausal, rendering them henceforth spectral and condemned to a ever decreasing lifespan of calcium yoghurt and Tena Lady.

We have been regaled by numerous sad tales of women who "walk into a room and are not noticed". Coming from a family who struggle very hard to actually recognise each other when out and about (my father has to be under a foot away before it dawns on him that I am one of his offspring), I honestly don't think this has anything whatsoever to do with age.

There are appear to be two schools of thought.  Either you revel in your new invisibility to dress like a frazzled Miss Marple after too many gins or you go a bit 'cougar' and Bet Lynch yourself up in leopard print, download Tinder (not, as I thought something to do with matches) and get yourself a large 'young male totty net'.  You can then do all the things you probably never did in your adolescence such as double date and worry about STIs.

Yes, you could make it a sexist issue, or an ageist issue.  You could get all steamed up about the fact that men, in all likelihood are pre-programmed to seek out the youngest, most fertile member of the opposite sex to bed and subsequently ignore while they go out to play golf.  But what is the truth?

Dare I say it - it's not all about you.  Those people in the room may well be engrossed in conversation. Unless you're Joan Collins, the party is unlikely to grind to an awe-struck halt.  On the other hand, your body language and personal presentation may be putting people off from approaching you.  Shuffling Igor like with a manifest lack of confidence and wearing a sack dress that would give Carol Vorderman nightmares is not going to get you any attention.  I would also suggest avoiding all clothing which claims to be 'eau de nil', or any dress cut shorter than Ant and Dec.   And as for anoraks.  Repeat after me:  "I am not an eskimo". Unless you are, of course, in which case, the broadband in your igloo is a whole heap more impressive than mine.

Can we please use a modicom of common sense here and recognise that i) we are bloody lucky to have lived so long and ii) it is up to us to make ourselves interesting - read, learn, develop, grow, get involved in the World. I forget who said it but there's truth in the saying that as we get older, even if we are no longer in the first flush of beauty, we can still be gorgeous.  Is it really all about attracting a partner? Was it ever?

Anyway, I think we can all cheer up because next week there will no doubt be an onslaught of verbiage about "sexy older women".  In which case, I hope the weather warms up because it's way too cold to take my thermals off. I'm off for a gin.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Spring comes to Gaviscon Towers

Ieuan & I in full combat mode in the Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Somebody has apparently moved Spring.  After the Biblical flooding parts of the UK suffered this year, at least we can show a modicom of British-style happiness now that the sun has appeared (even in Cardiff). This happiness is chiefly demonstrated by a celebratory visit to Homebase and hosing down the barbecue. But I have spent the last few weeks being confused as to when the first day of Spring is.  Today is the Spring Equinox and I'm pretty sure it's today and not, as the Daily Mail (with its general reliance on research carried out by Brian, the Confused.Com robot), claims the 1st of March.  Sadly, many people don't know their equinox from their Ultravox.  Less a case of understanding science and more a case of "goodnight Vienna".  I haven't seen Midge Ure on the TV for ages but the last time I did he was sporting a beard and grizzling slightly about his role in the Band Aid video.  Happy days.

I have to say, though, my science knowledge is dreadfully rusty.  Yes I know I could 'google' it but that takes the fun out of it, doesn't it?  Plus you miss the opportunity to wind the kids up royally. This week, for example, Caitlin has asked me how condensation works (it hangs around on window panes and creates mold on netting) and whether ducks eat yoghurt (obviously not because you wouldn't get a webbed foot in a Muller Yoghurt pot, particularly the corner bit with the fruit puree). 

And, I have not been feeling all that well.  As the clock ticks down to my 50th, I appear to be collecting a new raft of physical ailments which will fully justify, come 28th May, taking to my bed in a starched Victorian nightdress, wafting an embroidered hanky at all and sundry and demanding, alternatively, gruel, smelling salts and my tonic (Amaretto or Baileys, since you're asking). The family will be photographed looking suitably glum at 4 o'clock every Sunday huddled in our bijou sitting room, where the husband will sport a tweed suit, fob watch and monocle.  Letters of sympathy will be written and the 1812 Overture will be played on the gramophone to cheer everyone up.  (How can you go wrong with cannons?).  

The Sybil (my walking companion and font of vast tomes of slightly odd information), has already told me to get a grip and that I'm lucky not to be in a far greater state of decay at my age.  Which is nice.  I think I will have to recover, not just for the family but because if there is one substance which fills me with dread and makes me heave just thinking of it, it's Gaviscon.  Actually, I'm amazed nobody has named their son that yet. Sounds a bit French.   

As they say though,  it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.    Particularly mine.