The Scent of Nostalgia

Smell is our most powerful sense, linked completely with memory. Nothing can transport me back to a time and place like a particular aroma. It just does. Here are a few of my favourites, guaranteed to bring me comfort. I’d love to hear about yours, too. 

Channel No. 5

I’m starting with a big one. I grew up in the 80’s, and back then we weren’t the disposable nation we are now. Things were treasured, used and mended because we had a lot less stuff, and posh scents were a serious luxury. My uncle was a commander in the Royal Navy at the time, and he would always bring my Mum a gift when he came to stay. Sometimes a string of shells as a necklace, or a sarong, or a little bottle of Chanel. Mum only wore it on very special occasions, like Christmas or anniversaries. I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom, find the bottle on her dressing table, open the velvety cardboard box, stick my little nose in and inhale. I never dared spray myself with it; even back then I knew that this was a very precious scent for grown-up ladies. I was transported back to that time last week when I stayed with my parents-in-law. In the guest bedroom where we were sleeping, my mother-in-law had laid out some nice toiletries, including an atomiser of Chanel No. 5. I realised as I took that delicious forbidden sniff that I had never actually dared to wear it, and that aged 36 and with a three-month old son I might just qualify now. Reader, I wore it. It was delicious. 

McDonald’s and stale beer

Yeah, I know. I know! But hear me out. I have had all the jobs. All of them. I’ve worked since I was fifteen years old, and I tried my hand at a lot of things. One of my favourite jobs was when I was at sixth form college and a bunch of us got jobs at the local Maccy Ds. We had such a good laugh, made some drinking money and mostly spent it having nights out with each other. Every time I pass behind a McDonald’s I can smell that sweet, slightly rancid smell of discarded fat, and it takes me right back. 

The beer thing is similar. Once at university in London, I got a job waitressing at The Anchor Bankside, a lovely old pub that prides itself on being the ‘Second Oldest Pub in London’. Couldn’t tell you which is the actual oldest. When we’d finished a shift (around 11.30pm, no late opening in those days), we’d all meet downstairs in the bar and drink as many pints as we wanted. The scent of old beer, centuries of the stuff sunk into the floorboards, always seemed to me a heady scent of adulthood, nights out and fun.

Oil of Olay (Ulay) Original Beauty Fluid

I still use this stuff. I adore it. It sinks into thirsty skin so well, works on my fairy reactive face and smells absolutely divine. It smells of Mum, and the 80s again. There are plenty of more advanced formulas to be had; there even were back then, but nothing quite touches it for that gorgeous, warm, feminine, pink smell. I slather it all over my hands and arms every night and go to sleep with it in my nostrils. 

The Body Shop Satsuma Shower Gel

Ah, The Body Shop. A teenage girl’s dream shop. Lovely, well-mannered products aimed directly at me, with ethically sourced ingredients and nothing tested on animals. It was a wonderful place, and I would always stop in when I went on the bus to Preston with my friends. There were a lot of classic smells there. The lunatic perfumes spring to mind; Dewberry was my favourite, and White Musk will forever remind me of my piano teacher who spritzed it liberally. However, nothing can transport me back to that time like Satsuma Shower Gel. I love that they still make it. It was the one thing from that wonderful shop that Mum and I agreed on, and I bought some the other day just to see if it was still as good. I used it as a bath foam and oh my goodness, it was just as delicious as ever. 

Oven Pizza and Chips

Friday night. A new episode of Friends, pizza and chips in the oven. Pure 90s. 

Imperial Leather

The only soap in our house at one time. See also; Coal Tar. 

Yves Saint Laurent “In Love Again”

In 1998 I went on the French exchange from my Sixth Form College. It was utterly fantastic for a number of reasons, not least of which was that a snagged a gorgeous French boyfriend who looked like David Beckham, complete with blonde curtains. I also remember it as the holiday when I bought my first bottle of foundation (Bourjois, if you’re interested. That smelled amazing too). On one of the days we did a day trip to Paris. It was the day I began my lifelong love affair with the city that continues to this day. In one of the many, many shops we went into I was given a free sample of this wonderful perfume and always associate it with youth, love and PARIS. 

A few years later, well into my twenties and long after my bottle of ILA had run out and the perfume had been discontinued, I was shopping with my Mum on one of London’s department stores. We were just approaching the perfume department when I caught an unmistakable whiff. “Mum!!!” I yelled. “I’m sure that’s ‘In Love Again’!” Mum had always understood my love of this perfume and, I believe, was the person who bought my first bottle of it. That day I bought two, and still have a little bit left. 

It’s available again from the ‘Heritage’ collection at YSL for the princely sum of £77. It was always about £30 in my day!

What are the scents that send you hurtling back to a time and place? Tell me, you might remind me of one!

One Month, No Sugar



Time for a January review. It’s been a crazy busy month, and the first one where I’ve got a bit more into baby groups and getting out and about after my c-section. I’ve made loads of Mum friends, which has been lovely. It also feels like it was a really, really long month; but then when was January ever short?
My challenge for this month, if you can remember all the way back to when the decorations were still hanging limply from the drooping tree, was to give up sugar. Not in that mad way some real hardcore people do, cutting out everything except steamed fish and veg because ‘even fruit has sugar’. No, I just cut out all the fun stuff. The stuff I was glorying in after my very sicky pregnancy, when I could barely hold down an ice-pop. We’d been relying on sugar far too heavily for most of November and all of December, back in the days before little Artoo had any kind of sleeping pattern at all; and we were existing on chocolate, caffeine and carbs. I figured cutting out one of the three major food groups would probably be a good idea. 
Turns out, surprisingly, that it wasn’t too hard at all!* I’ve always been the kind of person who, when hungry, prefers something savoury over sweet. The sweet stuff for me has always been merely because it tastes nice and gives that instant lovely rush.
The good news is that giving up sugar has meant that I’ve lost a few pounds, my skin is clearer and my energy levels much more steady. I mean, they’re steady at a fairly low ebb thanks to Artoo, but still, steady all the same. Husband was dragooned into the challenge by his sister and mum, and it turns out he found it easier than expected too. 
This month: yoga every day. Stay tuned. 
* I must confess to one transgression. When waiting for a bus with another pram-pushing friend (you can’t fit more than one pram on a London bus, so if someone’s already one with one and there’s two of you trying to get on you’re stuffed), she ran to get us a coffee. Forgetting my challenge, said friend also bought a Cadbury Creme Egg for each of us. In the name of market research, because I’d heard they changed the recipe, I ate it. It was delicious. 

The Magic of Make-up

I decided to name this blog muminmakeup even though my devotion to make-up’s healing properties is something I’ve never really talked about before. I have always been one of those women who cannot leave the house without mascara. Not a permanently high-maintenence, full-face-of-slap kind of a girl, but someone for whom a little bit goes a long way. 
The love affair began at school, as I looked with envy at the girls who wore make-up and flouted the rules. I’ve always had translucent, Tilda Swinton-style eyelashes. Unlike the great Ms Swinton, however, I refused to embrace them. I was desperate for gorgeous, long thick Bambi lashes. I can remember sneaking into my parents’ en suite to raid Mum’s make-up bag. I’d bypass the frosted 90s lipsticks and go straight for the brown mascara (which, as far as I know, Mum switched long ago to black). I loved the definition it gave to my eyes, the hint of glamour and the grown-up world to come. 
The problem was, you see, that I was a Good Girl. My school didn’t allow any make-up, not even a hint, let alone the full orange faces so many of the girls in my year sported. I had watched them all being called out at the end of assembly and shamed for their Jezebel-like behaviour, and vowed that would never be me. So I contented myself with the entirely useless trio of clear mascara (I mean, why), light dusting of powder on my spotty face (like throwing a cup of water on a raging inferno) and Boots vanilla flavoured lip balm (smelled amazing, did nothing).
All of this meant that when I finally reached the heady land of Sixth Form I was ready to develop my relationship with cosmetics. The perfect Shirley Manson-from-Garbage kohl-ed eye. The Rose-from-Titanic nude lip. The flawless skin out of a bottle I had always craved. I could wax lyrical about each part of the puzzle, every product and why it makes everything feel better. Make-up is one of the loves of my life, but I had genuinely never realised how much I relied on it until I became pregnant. 
I had the worst pregnancy. The absolute worst. Suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (yes, like Kate Middleton only for the whole nine months), I could barely lift my head off the pillow most days. For six months I was in and out of hospital. Fluids, needles, vomiting until there was nothing but blood. It was truly awful, and I lost myself. It wasn’t until my parents took over and moved me back up North to be cared for that I could see any kind of light at the end of the tunnel. That was when I began to wear make-up again. 
It was like finding myself. I could look in the mirror at a woman I recognised as me again. I applied it lovingly, every day, in a sort of ritual. Foundation, eyeliner, mascara, bright lips. Make-up gave me a boost when I needed it most. I’m sure that towards the end of pregnancy most women are buying beautiful baby clothes and dreaming about their child. I still couldn’t get past the end of each day, so buying a gorgeous new Clinique matte lipstick was enough for me. 
Fast-forward to a week after the birth. I had done the staying in pajamas all day thing maybe once or twice, but it wasn’t for me. I started to approach parenthood like a job. Up at 7.30 for a shower whilst my husband and baby still slumbered. Outfit on, make-up on. It’s another ritual, albeit an incredibly fast one, a race against my son who’ll be waking up for a feed any moment. I can do the whole thing in seven minutes, start to finish. It’s amazing; there really should be a medal for it.
Strangely, no matter how bad the night, or how little sleep, a shower, proper outfit even if just leggings and a tee, skincare and make-up routine makes me feel polished. Makes me normal. Makes me me. What’s more, somehow I feel more able to cope with a baby. Make-up is my armour, my war-paint, my shield. And here’s the really strange part: It makes me feel like a better mother, even though I know that’s nonsense. It works for me the way fashion, caffeine or running works for others. 
I know there are people who think that a reliance on make-up has more to do with men than women. A symbol of the patriarchy, of how women feel they have to look to meet society’s beauty standards. This has been discussed elsewhere and shot down by far better writers and beauty officionados than I. It may well be that way for some; but for me it has nothing to do with it. 
It just makes me happy, and who doesn’t need that? 

*Please note: a version of this post will be appearing on http://www.themumclub.Com. Check them out, they’re great!

Resolution Revolution

January. The most miserable, grey, cold month of the year, and yet somehow also the month we’re supposed to use for strict physical self-improvement. Diets, exercise, cleanses, detox, running with a personal trainer at 5am before work…

It’s never really done it for me. I’ve always been a September goals kind of gal. As a teacher I adore September, with its gorgeous warm light, morning mists, new stationery (oh, how I love the new stationery. More on that another time), and the sense of a new beginning, the mental challenge of a new academic year. I’m a geek, you see, and I’ll always be much more into mental challenges than physical ones. 

This year, though. This year is different. I spent most of last year in and out of hospital with a very difficult pregnancy, suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum for the whole nine months. I couldn’t work, so when my colleagues and students were celebrating the start of a new year, I was starting my maternity leave two and a half months early. Not for me the lovely squeak of a new board pen on the whiteboard, new uniforms and fresh smiles. I was staying in Lancashire with my kind, generous parents, which nevertheless was all a good 200 miles from my own husband and home. 

So this year, I’m embracing the New Year. I’m even embracing the resolutions, which I normally shy away from and just pick a word of the year instead. (Last year’s word was ‘adventure’. That was an understatement).

There is no way, though, I’ll keep something going for an entire year. No way. I’ve tried it before and just failed on a hideous level, beating myself up with it from February to December. I can’t imagine that being much better with a little baby in tow, either. It’s a waste of my time. So I’m doing things a little differently. I had a good idea. 

I’ve seen people use old jars for things like this before. ‘Happiness’ jars, where you write down one nice thing that happened in a day and place it in. That kind of thing. So I decided to wash out an old coffee jar (I don’t have lovely Kilners hanging around, and any I do have are put to use), write down twelve different monthly challenges and pick one out on the last day of each month. Some of them are health-related, but many of them are just nice things I’ve been meaning to do for ages but never got around to. Like reading a poem every day. I adore poetry, and every now and then my husband and I spend a pleasant hour just reading our faves to each other. I’m aware this makes us sound like over-educated douches, and I must stress that we never plan it, but still, this is what we do sometimes. Or practising the piano every day for ten minutes, which is what I beg my students to do; ‘Just ten minutes a day and I swear you’ll notice a big difference!’

So… here’s what I came up with. 

Some of these are the more traditional health and fitness goals, but you’ll notice I’ve made them achievable. ‘Lose four stone’ is something I’d really like to do by December, but let’s face it, even breastfeeding like a demon I’m very unlikely to manage something that huge, and it’ll just haunt me and make me miserable. So I’ve made them tiny, bite-sized goals. I love the brain resolutions the best. I love listening to the ‘Coffee Break French’ podcast anyway, so doing that once a day will be a joy. Doing an online course? Ooh! Fun! In what? No idea, but I’ve got time to think about it. I’ve tried to do those pesky Morning Pages (from the book ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron, every frustrated creative has a copy) so many times, but failed because I was expecting to do them EVERY MORNING FOREVER. Clearly unlikely. 

I’ve given myself permission to put a resolution back if it doesn’t seem like the right time for it. If I have loads of events then five fruit and veg per day might be a stretch, whereas reading the books might still be achievable. You get the idea. 

If you’d like to try it for yourself then please, go ahead! 

*Disclaimer: I still picked the most boring one for January. No sugary treats. Because, well, it’s January. 

Let me know what you’re doing this year!

Hindsight. 

Looking across the aisle of the train carriage, I realise that I’m looking at the old me.

 

She looks like a student on her way back to university after the holidays, with a backpack and battered suitcase. Her hair is scraped back, she wears no make-up (she doesn’t need any), she’s in a comfortable hoody and trainers, looking sweet and wholesome and on the cusp of life’s adventure with her problem skin and three day hair. I wonder if she had a big last night at home with her friends, perhaps a boyfriend at some other uni across the country who she’ll break up with when she realises what love really is. I wonder if she has siblings, a warm, loving family with a joker of a Dad and a fierce, house-proud career Mum. 

I wonder if she’s looking at me, the mother with the pram, and wondering about me, my baby and our life. Except I know she’s not. I never did. But nevertheless, in my heart I wish her the joy I have known since my own student days. Of falling in love, of wild nights and adventures spend with friends, of travel and joyful, meaningful work. Of the sweetness of returning home to her family. Of the magic of building a new one, with mortgage and car and marriage and baby. Of looking at pictures of herself as a younger woman, shaking her head as she realises how pretty she really was in her youth. I wish her all of it, and more. 

It’s a beautiful life, little student girl. Enjoy. 

Sleep Deprivation and Retail Therapy

Artoo has a cold. Poor little mite’s eyes are streaming, he has a cough and has been delighting in wiping his snotty nose all over my clothes. I thought this was a development that came later, but apparently kids learn early. Sleep last night was broken broken broken; he wanted to sleep on me and nowhere else, thanks. 

After a delightful trip to the doctor this morning during which poor A screamed the place down whilst the bewildered man examined him (apparently having your ears looked at is excruciatingly painful), I needed a fix. 

I’m NOT a clothes shopper. I find it depresses me in the extreme. Everything I like is too expensive, or it doesn’t fit, and right now post-birth when I’m as big as I’ve ever been I couldn’t be less up for trying on clothes, particularly with a baby in tow. 

When it comes to appearance shopping, I am all about beauty products and accessories. If I’m not buying books and music, this is what I spend most on. Which is why I found myself trudging bleary-eyed to my local Sainsbury’s. Actually, the original plan was to get presents for the children of all my uni friends who I’ll be seeing at our Christmas celebration next weekend, but that died a death. “I’ll just get myself a little treat”, I thought. “It’ll cost the same as a coffee and sandwich, but last much longer.”

In the end I walked away with a new wrap which looks like it’ll be useful for breastfeeding, and a whole load of Dirty Works products which I haven’t tried before but have been recommended by beauty guru Sali Hughes. Well, the brand has, anyway. 

I’ll let you know if they’re wonder prods or not, but it’s certainly worth saying they didn’t break the bank. Not even my bank. £38 for all that seems a bargain to me. Now, I’m off to do a face mask and hope that King Arthur stays asleep.

A New Chapter

It’s 7.03am on 31st December 2016. Though really it’s so dark it could be the middle of the night. I’ve just spend an hour cuddling my seven-week-old son, as he’s been restless since his last feed at 5. I check his breathing religiously, every time I wake, which is often, even when he slumbers peacefully. I’m overwhelmed by responsibility to this tiny, beautiful person who relies on me for everything, rewarding me with the occasional wonky, drunken, joyful smile. For 35 years I have been responsible for no-one but myself, unless you count pets and my husband. I had a freedom I never knew or acknowledged; the freedom of walking through life able to go wherever I wanted, do whatever I liked, spend money like water and drink cocktails at 5pm, or even 5am. It was a beautiful life, a glorious life, with adventures and family and friendship. It was never “less than” just because I didn’t have a child. Still, the thought that I nearly missed out on this part, on the milk, the stories, the night feeds, the magic of Christmas with my own child, makes me catch my breath. I nearly didn’t have it, so nearly.

At seven weeks after his birth, life is beginning to get something of a rhythm for us. The early days of feeding constantly, of a newborn with no concept of night and day, of constant visits from relatives and friends are coming to a close. The three of us have developed our own world where the tiniest things are important and hold the universe together. We enjoy our days, with trips to see friends, walks in the cold when we’re all wrapped up, endless box sets on Netflix and Amazon with warm cuddles and eating one-handed.

When I was a kid, my Dad would get home around six, just before tea was ready. I’d be in the kitchen with Mum, chatting to her about the day and whatever drama had befallen me and my friends at school. I can still smell the cooking and see the steam on the kitchen windows, feel the warm hug of it. When my Dad’s key turned in the lock our heads would turn to him, and he’d come in bringing the cold, the smell of chewing gum and some treasure or other he’d picked up. He’d tell us a tale from his day whilst rummaging in the bread bin and thickly buttering a crust, talking between bites and handing the bread to me to share while Mum got cross we were spoiling our tea, shouting for my brothers to come down to eat. It was a feeling of complete wholeness, of family, of being surrounded by love. It’s security, belonging. It’s the feeling I get now when I hear my husband’s key in the lock and know we’re giving that to someone else. It’s a feeling we pass on to our children, if we’re lucky enough to have them.