Wednesday, 24 February 2010

What's your bag?

Handbags. No, not pitching for a fight, just talking about the common or garden handbag (or pocketbook or purse for my North American readers).

Kate tagged me to divulge what is in my handbag and I agreed because I think it’s more than a random set of ‘things’ – a woman’s bag is a mirror of her personality.

A friend of mine looks askance at my bag. Hers is small – immaculate on the outside, pristine on the inside. In it she keeps a (clean, pressed) hankie, a purse, a small diary and her reading glasses. That’s it. I say ‘friend’ but if I’m honest we’ll never be ‘real’ close tell-it-all over several bottles of wine friends because we are just too different. Her life is neat, compartmentalised, ordered. Mine, on the other hand, lurches from chaos to calamity. She's not the kind of friend who would understand that you're feeling down/overwhelmed/teary/a bit bonkers. She'd look puzzled and suggest you need more sleep or a bout of gardening.

My dear late (and hugely lamented) friend Sarah Dening always said that to dream of a handbag was to dream about your identity, what defines you as a woman. If you dream of a handbag she suggests you ask yourself these questions:
• Has a change of circumstances undermined my sense of identity?
• Am I afraid of losing my worth as a woman?
• Am I trying to model myself on someone else?

Interesting questions, one and all (and, if I'm honest, it's probably a YES to all three).  Let’s see what my handbag and its contents reveals about me and my life (both outer and inner).

My bag is soft brown leather with a vivid pink lining. It was a present from my mother when she was very ill, not long before she died and so it is hugely precious. It came from a little shop just down the road and is a very non-prententious, very non-designer bag. It's always been slouchy but once it was relatively smart. Now the leather is scuffed, the lining is’s been well-used and has a few years’ use left in it yet. So it feels very much a symbol for how I feel as a middle-aged, madly juggling, generally worn out, slumped in a corner woman.

In it, you will find right now:
• A bright pink Prada purse. Real Prada. Bought for me by my dear friend Jane who knows that the only time I get the real thing is when she buys it for me. ‘Every woman needs a bit of Prada’ she said. I love it but never quite feel it’s ‘me’.
• An iPod. My son’s. Can’t use it, haven’t a clue. Makes me feel stupid every time I look at it.
• My Moleskine notebook. Goes everywhere with me. I find inspiration hits, not when I’m sitting at my desk but everywhere else. My memory is shot so I carry it round with me.
• Several pens. I live in mortal terror of not having a writing implement.
• Diary. Never look at it but hey, it’s there.
• A book, if not two. At the moment it’s a YA novel called Shiver.
• A small torch. We still can’t get into The Bonkers House by the front door (there be monsters) so we have to navigate steep and uneven and winding steps up into the garden. A torch avoids (hopefully) broken legs.
• Glasses case. Never has glasses in it.
• Sunglasses. Ray Bans (Wayfarer Dekko) I bought at Miami airport over twenty years ago. Happy memories of a wonderful press trip to Grand Bahama.
• Memory stick.
• Rescue remedy; arnica; lip salve
• Hand cream (La Compagnie de Provences, lavender)
• Fingerless mittens, in nubbly blue wool, knitted by Pipany
• Several small grey model soldiers. Used to decorate a cake for James back in November and now bivvied in my mobile phone pocket. Note: mobile phone NOT in bag. Never is. Never know where it is.
• Gum shield (spare for James)
• Tampons in metal container and loose
• Jo Malone Lime Basil and Mandarin cologne. Cheers me up.
• A scrunchie. Why? No idea.
• Several shopping lists, receipts, business cards, flyers
• A layer of dust.

That’s it. What does it say about me? I guess that I’m just another working mother: a bit disorganised, a bit haphazard; trying hard to be prepared for all eventualities (so maybe a bit anxious); phobic of phones; desperately wanting to write and be creative; too lazy to have a turnout; not particularly vain (note the lack of makeup and mirror) or is that just plain given up?

So, over to you. What is in your handbag? And (if you fancy) what do you think it says about you?

I reckon if you like this one, just go for it. But, in the spirit of tagging, I would love to know the innards of the bags of:

Crystal Jigsaw
Fire Byrd

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


How often do we nourish ourselves? I thought about that word for quite a while. At first I wrote ‘pamper’ but I think it’s been downgraded somehow nowadays. All that ‘because I’m worth it’ sold to us by perfect actresses/models. I work from home and so basically there is no down-time – ever. After I pack James off to school I start work – I’m usually at my desk by 8am at the latest. I snatch twenty minutes for lunch and, if my eyes are falling out or my bum has become square from sitting, I don’t have a water cooler moment or hang out by the coffee machine – I bung a load of washing in the machine or race out and do a bit of weeding. I’m not moaning – I wouldn’t go back to working in an office – but, like many women who juggle work and family, I don’t really have down-time.
So, I surprised myself the other day when I agreed to go up to London for the day. Not for a feature, but for me. For some nourishing.
I pottered around the shops in Marylebone High Street and wondered if I could justify treating myself to a Diptique Baies candle. Decided sadly not. Then I met my agent, the lovely Judy, for a spot of very late lunch and several coffees. We talked a bit about work but mainly about life, and books, and general ‘stuff’. After hugging her goodbye I walked down towards Oxford Street for my next appointment – with Annee de Mamiel at Home House. Ever have those cases of synchronicity when you feel the universe (your subconscious or whatever) is nudging you towards something? Well, that’s how it was with Annee. I’d had an email enthusing about her brand of facial acupuncture and aromatherapy. Then, while researching a feature on the plus and minus sides of the whole pampering industry, her name came up again.

I’d asked dear friend and uber health journalist, Sarah Stacey, co-author of the fabulous Beauty Bible series, for her top ‘must-see’ therapists, the ones who are really worth the shedloads of money they charge. She voted for – yup – Annee.
As I reached Home House, a private members’ club just behind Oxford Street, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. It’s one of those places where you tug hopelessly at the wrong door, feeling like an idiot and then go flying through into a lobby where the staff make you feel about an inch high. The Method Spa is located in the vaulted basements and you could easily get lost in the maze of corridors which have, it has to be said, the feel of an old school or run-down hospital (with freezing cold floors).

The women in the changing room were all about six feet tall and size 6 and I felt like a whale in my towelling robe. So far, so not nourishing. But then I met Annee and the surroundings didn’t matter. She was as slim and gorgeous as the clients, wearing a neat black shift dress and pumps but just radiated warmth.
‘Come on in to my room,’ she said in her soft Australian accent. ‘Let’s have a chat.’ She asked me a series of questions, gently, encouragingly. It felt safe and nonjudgmental, as if she were really interested, not just going through the motions. She took my pulses, looked at my tongue and then sighed.
‘Oh you poor blossom,’ she said. I nearly burst into tears. It felt like she was the first person to notice me, really truly notice me – in years.
She covered me up in a cashmere blanket on her couch. Slotted acupuncture needles in my feet, legs, arms and hands to help balance my badly misaligned energy. Then popped a batch of them around my face – mainly on the jaw and forehead.
‘I need to relax some muscles and activate others with the needles. By the third treatment you really notice lines smoothing out and skin feeling thicker, plumper and firmer.’
I wanted to take notes but she gently discouraged me. ‘This is time for you. Let go of what you don’t need and take a step on a journey to look after you, to take care of you.’

It sounds a bit woolly written down but truly it isn’t. She creates a cocoon of safety and warmth and it really does feel as if she sees into your soul and smiles. Time became fluid as Annee talked me through a visualisation/ meditation and then, having taken out the needles, worked on my face using her own blended aromatherapy oils. It felt delicious, as if her fingers were talking to my face, teasing out the tension. Down went her fingers into my neck and shoulders, down deep into the rigid fascia.

She feels very strongly that women are way too tough on themselves. ‘They strive for perfection but I think real beauty is imperfect. What the Japanese call wasi sabi – the art of imperfect beauty. For example, if a bowl is cracked, it lets through the light. It’s about confidence. If you feel okay about yourself on the inside, you’ll look better on the outside.’
Some people say that facial acupuncture is a real alternative to Botox but can that really be the case? ‘Yes, very much so,’ she insists. ‘It takes longer but lasts longer. It got to me that women are so into freezing themselves; it frightened me. We need to nurture ourselves, not punish ourselves. It’s sad but here, on my couch, might be the only time women stop.’

I’m a rotten old sceptic when it comes to expensive beauty treatments, I really am. This one costs a hefty £150 for 90 minutes (but you do leave with a specially blended facial oil and a medicinal tea).  However (and I surprise myself here) if you can afford it, it really is worth it.  Funds allowing (which sadly, they're not) I would have it on a regular basis without question. I walked out not giving a toss about the snitty girls on the skyscraper heels and the self-important businessmen on their iPhones. I walked straight into a snowstorm and laughed. Two weeks later I can still see and feel the benefits – not just on my skin, but deep inside, in my heart.

If you want to try the Annee magic, check out her website at

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Great Cupcake Challenge

Okay, so I can't cook for toffee but I can turn out a cupcake.  And, by heck, I have hideously bright food colourings and I will use them.  And then add all manner of bits and bobs on top.  And I most certainly will take up any challenge (within reason) thrown at me.  So, when Englishmum announced The Great Cupcake Challenge I had to have a bash.  So here, without further ado, may I announce Bonkers House Cup Cakes a la Mode. 


Friday, 12 February 2010

Growing up and blogging for The Lady

I’m all at sea, all discombobulated, haven’t been able to settle. Not that unusual a state of affairs of course but this is something more. My boy is off on a school trip tomorrow – a five day rugby tour involving a plane flight (and a 3.30am start to boot). I’m not the clingy mummy type (far from it) but I’ve been finding myself holding on for a few extra seconds of hug this last week, snuggling up closer on the sofa and even watching Top Gear while kissing the top of his head (to the point where he turned and said, ‘You’re going to give me a bald spot at this rate’).

He’ll have a ball (literally and metaphorically) and I know he’ll be fine but – oh – I can’t help but worry and just know I will miss him like fury. So, I’ll get a lie-in on Sunday. So, I will have the time to crack on with the new novel without constant interruption. But, crikey, it feels strange. We’ve been parted for this long before but usually it’s me doing the going away. This is him branching out on his own, starting the road to independence that is so necessary and right for a child and such a mix of pain and joy for a parent.

It seems barely five minutes ago that he was being born (all 12lbs 8oz of him), having his first day at school, having his first sleepover....

That’s it really. Nothing more to be said. Brace up, Alexander old girl....could be packing him off to boarding school, I suppose. You know I couldn't even think about watching that TV programme - even the trailer with the mother crying got me going. I dunno...I don't believe in criticising other people's parenting methods but surely eight years old is too young by far to be away from home for a whole term?

On other matters... I have just started doing a blog for The Lady. Don’t laugh – it’s not just posh peeps any more (well, hardly, with me on board). Do take a look and, if you don’t mind signing up (I don’t think it means you’ll be bombarded with prospective nannies – they’re far too polite for spam), would love to have your comments on it.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Breaking the Silence

I haven’t done one of my ‘favourite blog’ posts for absolutely ages but when I saw this new one I had to do whatever I could to push people its way. The blog is called Breaking the Silence and it’s important.
Breaking the Silence is different in that it isn’t written by one person. It doesn’t have gorgeous artwork or stunning pictures (and hellfire I’m a sucker for those). But this is a blog that, in my humble estimation, really needs to be read. It’s about mental illness. But not dull statistics and worthy doctors spouting research. This isn’t about numbers (though those are frightening – one in four people suffer from some form on mental illness), it’s about people. People like you and me telling their stories. They’re doing it in an attempt to stop the stigma that still exists around mental health issues.
As many of you know I battle the black dog. I had a bad bout of post-natal depression and then a few other bouts of general ‘what IS the point’ depression. I’ve recently come off medication and hoping I can keep my head above water.
Do read the blog: follow it, tell people about it. Together we can shift the way society feels about us – yes, a large number of us.

To give you a taster, I’m including here one story from the blog, written by a wonderful woman in New York City who has become a good online friend. Janine Crowley Haynes is a stunning writer and I have to say that when I first read her book My Kind of Crazy, I ended up with tears pouring down my face. Having said that, at other times she had me laughing out loud. My Kind of Crazy is self-published so you can buy it – but if you know an agent or publisher who’d like to take it mainstream, do please get in touch with Janine.

THE following article was written by Janine for the women's writing community Judith's Room. Here are her words.

"I AM crazy.
There, I said it.
This is the opening line in my book. Now, I know it's not politically correct to use the term crazy when referring to someone with a mental illness, but I wear the label like a badge of honor.
I feel I've earned it. The first commandment in writing is: Write what you know. Well, I know crazy. My kind of crazy is known as bipolar disorder.
I was diagnosed fifteen years ago. Within that time, I've experienced relentless cycles of severe mood swings and psychotic episodes. I've been committed to a psych ward more times than I can count. I've been treated by various doctors and have been on countless medication regimens.

During my last episode, I sank to a new depth — I attempted suicide. I swallowed a bunch of pills to put myself out of the never-ending misery which had become my life.
This all sounds so depressing, right? Not really.
There are lessons to be learned when one is diagnosed as crazy.
I also inject humor into my story to help wash down the jagged little pill of mental illness. In fact, I believe that one must embrace their inner-craziness in order to heal, evolve, and move forward to help change the perception of mental illness and dismantle the stigma.
Just like any other organ, when the brain gets sick, it exhibits symptoms and should be managed and treated. I began writing as a form of therapy to work through the enormous guilt I felt over my suicide attempt. I decided to share my writings via email with close friends and family.
The feedback was amazing. They kept asking for more, and I obliged. I took them on a journey inside the locked psych ward and gave them a taste of what it's like to be crazy. Sharing my experience, through writing, has been therapeutic for all of us.
Writing is an effective way be heard without being interrupted. By opening up via email, a flurry of cyber-dialogue ensued. It helped us laugh and cry. It healed emotional wounds. It humbled me to receive such an outpouring of love and forgiveness. Little did I know my scribble would later turn into chapters of a book.
My doctor suggested I convert my manuscript into book formation so he could circulate it amongst patients and staff members of the hospital. At first, I went the traditional route of seeking out literary agents, sending query letters, researching publishers, etc.

It wasn't long before I learned that if you're not a doctor, celebrity or a well-known anybody, it's virtually impossible to have a memoir published. So, I chose to self-publish. Self-publishing is not for everyone, but it served my purpose. I wanted to get my message out and did not want to wait around for the next-to-impossible publishing contract. From start to finish, it took me a total of six months to turn it into a book. I then listed it on

What followed was a strange and beautiful outcropping. Psychology professors now are using my book in their classes. I'm guest speaking for mental health organizations. My book rests on a library shelf in the psychiatric hospital where I used to be a patient and am now a volunteer.
Recently, My Kind of Crazy was chosen as an Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. And, strangely enough, a Hollywood producer read my script based on my book and is interested. I guess you can say this is crazy at its best.

On the 17th day of March 2005, I attempted to take my life. Through writing (and, of course, staying on my meds), I found a way to turn my darkest day into light and shed that light on dismantling the stigma attached to mental illness. Like so many, I suffered in silence, but, today, I am out of the “crazy closet” in a major way. Yes, I am bipolar, but I no longer allow my disorder define me. I define it for all who will listen to my tale."