Mistrust all enterprises that require lipstick

I first came across this saying in A Room with a View – it is discovered by Lucy Honeychurch written in the back of a wardrobe. Until today I didn’t realise it was a version of a quote from Walden by Henry David Thoreau –

“I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

He is so right. I’d go one step further, for female readers (Thoreau probably didn’t have much experience of this) – forget about the new clothes: even the faintest urge to put on lipstick is an indication that…

… there may be trouble ahead…

So, when I found myself slathering on the one and only lipstick (Max Factor’s Rosewood – it’s lasted for years) in order to go and visit a possible care home for Mum with my sister, I thought ‘This doesn’t bode well!’ After all, who cares what the lumpy, flaky elder daughter looks like, lolloping along like a wonky Tesco trolley behind the slim, efficient youngest daughter? I suppose the lipstick was to make it look as if I had tried, or even to confirm that I had actually woken up at some point before falling into the car and turning the key in the ignition. With it – yes, that was the look I was aiming for – especially when venturing into a home full of dementia patients.

As we sat on a tiny sofa in the Lounge discussing (or in my case, not) fees, wander alarms and social activities – karaoke, Elvis impressionists – apparently they love Elvis – patting a giant inflatable ball from one side of the room to another, etc – with the home’s administrator, an elderly gentleman shuffled up and asked us kindly if we were getting to like being there, nowadays.

I began to think, perhaps I should never leave. Like the Hotel California. I seemed to be fitting right in… If it wasn’t for that faint smell of dinner… I mean, it was big and nice and sunny. And there were paintings on the walls. And I quite fancied having a pat at that giant blue ball… There was even a cat, somewhere. There was a notice as we went in:

Warning: Baby, our resident cat, likes to sleep in the corridors. Do not trip over him.

Not much chance of that. Thirteen moggies means you never raise your eyes above your foot-level. You’re wading through cats; an ocean of tails, paws and fur.

The thing is, beyond a certain age, lipstick becomes a liability. It travels. Best to avoid red wine for the same reason, at least in public, or you risk looking like Dracula’s Granny – and not realising it.

Is it even worth putting on lipstick any more? Even when I was in my prime I had the sort of face that lipstick didn’t improve. In fact, nothing improved it. Mum was striking-looking, in her twenties, with her upswept hair and sparkly eyes – you could see why Dad fell for her – and Dad was positively handsome in a raven-haired matinee-star sort of way. The trouble was, instead of taking after either one or the other (my sister takes after Mum) I got a bit of both – Mum’s crooked front tooth, Dad’s footballer’s-knees and piano-player hands. Worse, looking in the mirror – more and more as I get older, I see that my face has a kind of meridian – Mum from the nose upwards and Dad from the nose downwards and the two sections don’t match: I’m a chimera. I’m Franken-daughter.

What I need is the niquab. Maybe it’s not too late to convert? Alternatively, maybe I could carry one of those bespangled carnival masks on a stick… all year round.

Fashion and I have always had a difficult relationship. Mum used to despair of my marriage prospects since I refused to entertain corsets, eyebrow-pencil, false eyelashes or frills. And whatever I bought – however much it cost – once on me it always looked as if I’d got it in the Oxfam shop. In the end I gave up and short-circuited the whole tedious process by actually shopping at Oxfam. Still, whatever I bought would turn out to be uncomfortable: it would either cut in, hang loose, get in the way, sag, pinch or feel conspicuous.

The most comfortable time of my life was when I lost my prestigious position as a Partner’s Secretary and found one in an outbound call centre on an industrial estate where ‘smart casual’ might mean anything from wellington-boots and kohl-ringed eyes to fairy-wings and a fez. I ditched the office schmutter and lived in men’s clothing from supermarkets. A man’s shirt or jumper is about half the price of the equivalent woman’s shirt or jumper, did you know that? Ladies, they charge us almost double simply because we’re vain and love to shop. I discovered by trial and error what size men’s jeans fitted me. I gauged shirts, tee shirts and jumpers and socks by eye and was hardly ever mistaken – but women are used to doing that, since ‘standard’ sizes vary from one label to another.

Nowadays I compromise. The universal ladies’ ‘fashion’ here at Benefits-on-Sea is for leggings. This is because leggings are cheap, fit everyone and go with everything. So I wear leggings with a variety of long tops – tee-shirts, shirts, ‘sale’ dresses – whatever I can find. I look a bit frumpy and odd but what does it matter?

When have I not?

primp

 

 

 

 

 

Where have all the widgets gone?

Well, today, or to be strictly accurate yesterday at around 4pm, I finally entered the… what century are we in, now? That century.

The Amazon delivery man arrived with my Kindle Fire.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what it would do. I had a Paperwhite, for reading books, and I thought that was pretty swish, but this…

My niece has got one, you see – the one with the kidneys/dialysis. I hardly ever see her but she has taught me, unwittingly and by example, a number of useful things. Or maybe I just mean I copy her. Yearning for my long lost youth. She showed me once how to drape one of those chequered Arab scarves round one’s neck and look like an art student. In her less seriously ill days, at any rate, she wore Doc Martins with skirts, and tattoos, and jewellery in her tummy. And you never knew what colour her hair would be. I remember at Dad’s funeral it was neon pink. She used to make me wish I’d been born a couple of decades later. Well, she has a Kindle Fire.

Apart from niece-envy, there were a couple more grown-up reasons. I had it in mind that anything resembling a computer, however mysteriously little, would cost £squillions, so I didn’t even bother to check. When I did check – although technically nothing is affordable – it was within my grasp. And then there was the failure with the smart phone. I think a smart phone is probably a step too far. It’s just too small, and scary. And the one I got – I don’t know – it just didn’t match my brainwaves. I do things one way, the smartphone did it another.

But as soon as I got started on the Fire I knew we were going to be friends. Ridiculous – because it has all the things a smartphone has – apps and whatever. I wasn’t even sure what an app was (though my nephew designs them for some hi-tech company – they snaffled him straight from university) until I started downloading them. Most important was the WordPress one, but I also found BBC i-player, Zoopla, Heart radio, a thing where you could tune into classical music from all over the world and something called Spotify.

So, at 2 o’clock in the morning I was still wide awake, tapping and swiping away and going “Aha – it does this” and “Aha – it does that” when it occurred to me that the delivery man, in bringing this little black box to my door, has in fact made obsolete in one fell swoop my television set, my generic mp3 player, my desktop computer and who knows what else? Maybe even the microwave.

Although of course I’ll still need the desktop for my 90 mph blog-post typing in Word (I prefer to cut and paste – less chance of losing the whole lot). And I’ll still settle down in front of the TV set with the cats of an evening. It’s just that now – I can watch TV anywhere! If I want to. I can check my emails anywhere! I can…

But how long my blog posts look, scrolling down and down and down. And it took me a while to work out where all my widgets went – all those neat little mini-programmes on the right hand side – Calendar, Category Cloud; Most Popular and Most Recent Posts. I mean, it’s not absolutely intuitive to turn a computer on its side.

Is it?