We’ve been ‘refreshing’ our kitchen.

We bought the units in a half price sale before we left Scotland, transported them down in their boxes. I designed the kitchen, having studied the most efficient layout. John built it. It has served us well for nearly 30 years.

The cupboards were originally pine. We bought a pine dresser to go in the kitchen, and a rectangular pine table from Habitat, also bought in Edinburgh before we left. The table returned to Scotland eventually going to Joanna, though I think it has gone the way of all things material by now. After a few years we took the top off the pine dresser and John built it up to the ceiling. When the kittens were tiny they would disappear under it if they felt threatened, and eventually I found one stuck in there, mewing pathetically – it was very difficult to get it out uninjured. We blocked off the space underneath it which was also good because the cats used to bring in mice and then ‘play’ with them but they would escape through some miniscule gap to the safety underneath.

Over the years, the kitchen has been pine, a pale blue, a pale green, and now its Battleship Grey. With white and a black worktop. I’ve retained my sage green Denby china and it looks OK with the grey. Every time we’ve repainted, John has said to me, Should we get a new kitchen? But I like the layout, the cupboards are good, the doors plain. We’ve had new handles; new white goods; new china; new circular table. This time we got new knives, food preparation machine and new toaster, plus new scales. Also we bought new Le Creuset stainless steel pans, my previous pans being so old I can’t remember when or where I got them. My cookery books are organised by author, and I’ve found one that I don’t recall ever seeing before and didn’t know I owned.

I absolutely hate the mess and disruption of redecoration – especially of the kitchen. The contents of it ended up scattered throughout our other downstairs rooms. When it came to putting it all back, I first took those things which I actually use. Most of the rest I flung out, sent to Oxfam, or I regret to say, put in the loft. As you get tired, you put more things in the ‘Discard’ pile because it’s easier. (John says to me, What is this collection? I reply, That’s the ‘I don’t care what happens to them’ stuff.)

However there are some things you never throw out. I have retained, hanging from a nail, a tiny pair of blue ceramic clogs, brought back by John from Holland decades ago for some child. I also make space for five ceramic dishes, five sided, about the size of an egg-cup, bought in Asakuso, Tokyo and painted with orange symbols. I’ve never found any use for them. And there’s the green Mateus Rose bottle, carried in on the Atlantic and scuffed by Hebridean sand, and picked up 40 years ago by me from the beach where my grandparents’ house stood.

So now I have a nice clean and tidy kitchen. Perhaps I’d better cook in it.



Sometimes when I think of writing this blog, a topic is fairly itching to be aired. Sometimes there are several competing ideas in my head. Sometimes it has been clear to me for days what I will discuss, and I’ve been turning over phrases in my head, with the structure of the piece is already laid out in my thoughts. And sometimes as now, I look out over the vista of my imaginative landscape and it’s just a vast, empty desert. Nothing but sand blowing in the wind.

I look back desperately over the past week. Nothing happened worthy of recounting. I went to the optician. I had lunch with friends. I bought two pairs of socks and two pairs of black trousers. I ate less than in previous weeks. I finished reading This Boy by Alan Johnson. I bought a pipette – an eye dropper – to water the flowers in my ikebana arrangement. It’s not the stuff of epics, is it?

No piece of philosophical wisdom occurred to me that I can share with you. No witticisms are waiting to be released. No-one even annoyed me! The week was mild, grey, wet. January is dull! Roll on spring-time.

PS But I did see snowdrops at Wakehurst!


I read in the Sunday papers that the ‘no make up’ look is becoming very fashionable. Apparently there was a phase of taking ‘selfies’ with no make-up. I haven’t worn make up for years – apart from (generally red) lipstick.

I used to regard it as ‘war paint’. I would put it on when I was engaging in a stressful situation, and at work. So I saw it as a distancing technique: it put a barrier between you and everything else and putting it on was like a mental exercise of getting on your armour.

I just gradually stopped using it. It’s much quicker – MUCH quicker – to be ready if you don’t have to perform that ritual. I didn’t like the feel of it on my skin. Although I was careful to use unperfumed varieties, even they had a faint scent, which I disliked.

It was always interesting to observe other women without their make-up. Some people put on their make up before they emerge from their bedroom. Travelling with a very fair friend, I was astonished at the huge difference in appearance between her unmade up self (very pale, eyebrows and eyelashes looking bleached, washed out appearance – not unattractive in itself but very different from her normal public style) and what I had thought was ‘her’. As I am dark, there’s not huge difference between my un-made up and made-up look.

Another problem that I have in relation to make-up, is that I despise the industry. Make-up is basically paint; you need to make sure it’s not harmful. I have done none of the things the cosmetics industry would recommend: I don’t moisturise, or wear expensive creams. I don’t use soap or any product on my face but just rinse it in tepid water. (When you do wear make up of course you have to remove it with a cleansing cream: tepid water would not suffice.) I suppose you could argue that I’ve been genetically fortunate and inherited good skin, (the women of the Western Isles were famous for their beautiful skin, and this is probably because they ate a lot of fish and the air was perpetually moist from Atlantic storms!) but I wonder if the loading it up with all that stuff is not in itself bad for it? I think the claims made for face creams are an insult to a woman’s intelligence. Best for you skin would be a) to be lucky in what you inherit; b) to eat well; c) to have a tranquil spirit.

Anyway, I dislike being ‘fashionable’, so I decided I would fish out my makeup box and see what it contained – bought for some reason about ten years ago, but I didn’t take up the habit again.

I haven’t forgotten how to do it. I stand at the mirror above the sink, as I always did. Foundation. I’ve got Clarins in a tube. I squeeze out a small blob, dab it on in spots with a finger, smooth it out with both hands, and take a tissue and wipe at least half of it off. Then I look at the powdered eye shadows – Rimmel or some equally cheap brand. I’m wearing a citrus yellow with black at my neck and I decide on grey. My eyes are somewhat hooded, so not a lot of it will show, but I apply it and again wipe it off. Luckily I’m in a point of my day when my hand is quite steady, so I apply the black eyeliner from above the middle of my eye to the edge. The shape of the right eye – which I always do first – is easier to draw round than the left. I use the tip of the black mascara brush to stroke the edges of my lashes, top and bottom. As I do this, I think of the ladies of Egypt, who also went through this ritual with eye painting. Then I pick out a powdered rouge, and apply a brush of it to my cheek bones, and wipe most of it off. Finally, I apply a deep pink lipstick.

I stand back and consider the result critically and am reminded of Picasso’s painting of a woman looking in her mirror and realise that a woman examining her reflection has an expression she probably never wears at any other time.

It looks OK. More wrinkles than when I last did it. More formal, perhaps I remember how when I was 17 and with the dewy complexion of youth, I wouldn’t have gone as far as the garden gate without full make up! But this didn’t take too long. I might keep this habit, until make up becomes ‘fashionable’ again.