Monthly Archives: August 2020


There is a beach at Lyme Regis where you can walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs, if you know where to look and the time is right. I’ve never managed to find them, although I do have a lovely photo of my daughter, aged 6, standing on an enormous ammonite, wrapped up in boots and a yellow coat with a furry hood, protected from the cold, Easter wind, too young to understand the significance of the event, but impressed nevertheless at the strange rock formation standing proud from the hard, wet sand.  When the tide is in, and the cold, grey sea laps against a closer shore, you’d never know they were there. They are covered up, hidden by the ordinary circumstances of the everyday.  

If you hadn’t read the information on the website or on the noticeboards, you probably wouldn’t realise that you were standing on a rock-frozen giant seashell, even without your overenthusiastic parent explaining. You’d assume that the shapes that swirl gently across its surface were created by the smoothing action of sea. You’d think that there was nothing special about this set of rock pools, that the crabs and starfish and sea anenomes were living nowhere more spectacular or interesting than anywhere else along the shore and that little girls exploring there would need nothing more than a bucket and one of those nets that hang on the end of a slim bamboo pole and a mother to exclaim on a sunny rather than a cold and windy day. You wouldn’t know that if you looked with different, more informed eyes, you would find endless echoes of lives gone by, etched forever into the earth, reminders that things were not always as they are now.

I’m not a particular fan of dinosaurs, it must be said. I never coloured them in or had posters on my wall (although I do seem to remember, from my own dim and distant past, being taught a song about triceratops), but I am fascinated by the fact that they left their mark. Millions of years sit between them and me and yet their footprints still march across the shore. And it’s not just the natural wonders; a good cathedral will have me awed, a castle ruin, a mosaic floor. Monuments to the past from which we have come.

But the dinosaurs didn’t last forever. One meteor and they were gone, snuffed out like a candle. For millennia no-one even dreamed of a lizard as big as a bus. The tide came in and it went out; the secret footsteps lay undisturbed and children played on ordinary rocks. Castles and cathedrals rose and fell, testament to changing times, victims of war and greed, thunderbolts and gravity. They, too, sank into the ground, falling asleep after years proclaiming conquest, human and divine.

And there they waited, a snapshot memory of loss in stone, biding their time until the soil fell away or the tide went out and we wondered and understood what had been exposed.  

The Mask


I have a selection of books from my childhood that sit upon the bottom shelves and that the husband periodically tries to throw away (without getting rid of a multitude of build your own model aeroplane plans, I hasten to add) and which I occasionally come across when looking for something else and take an impromptu trip down memory lane. It happens a lot because I am invariably looking for something I have put in a Safe Place. This last week though, I haven’t so much found a long-lost book, more thought of it and smiled inside. It stands amongst the corner cobwebs with the pink Abba annual and the book of famous forgeries, next to the fairy tales and the world atlas, part a set of hardbacks you’re supposed to keep because otherwise why would someone have given them to you, many Christmases ago?
On the front cover sits a young woman on a horse, attractively backlit and wearing the kind of knitted jumper someone’s mum would have made who understood the need for everything to be oversized rather than fitting nicely, it’s title “Teenage Beauty” enticing the young-and-interested-in-growing-up to the exciting secrets contained within. Inside its still-glossy pages there is advice about spots (everyone gets them), sleep (you need a lot when you are a teenager) and eating healthily (you are what you eat, drink lots of water, your cheekbones will magically appear when you are in your twenties), exercise (find something you enjoy) and washing (do that lots). And, of course, hair and makeup for all manner of different occasions.
Not for the teenaged me the guidance of the youtube star and beauty blog, instead I had my trusty manual (honestly, I took a lot of it word for word and looked very odd indeed for long periods – how my mother kept her mouth shut is beyond me…actually, it isn’t entirely, at around the same time – 1986 – she was reading ‘how to bring up teenagers’ books) and devoured magazines, making my way through Jackie and Mizz and 19 and Smash Hits and graduating to Cosmo and Elle (and never Good Housekeeping, I mean, why?) and soaking up the problem pages, the relationship analyses and how to make the best of (and decide which are) your best features. My sister used to practice on me (she made me look like I’d been punched in the face once, possibly intentional) and I on younger relatives in turn (she never let me return the favour, funnily enough).
I learned from experience that following the instructions on how to apply those blushers that had four shades including highlighter wasn’t necessary, and neither did anyone (apart from people in books and magazines) call it rouge. I spent hours perusing the makeup shelves in Bodyshop (and the soaps and the shampoo and the hair dye) and slowly built up a small collection of powder and paint that moved beyond the clownish (my dad delighted in buying makeup sets for his daughters, the more garish the better for some reason) and the electric blue towards Heather Shimmer and lots of (black) eyeliner (why did no-one call it kohl?), a little for the day and more when going out. Which was a lot, at one time.
And then I started work. And then I had a family. And makeup became something that was squashed out, something I had little time for. I’ve always been one of those people who would rather spend those extra ten minutes in bed, rather than getting ready, you see. I’ve never been one of those women who wouldn’t leave the house unless they were properly done, hair and nails and everything; I’m more the sort who’d forget to wash it off, or forget I had it on and rub my eyes in an effort to make myself wake up. Forgetting to take care of myself is a long-running theme.
And slowly, over the years, makeup became something different. It aged and solidified into a mask; a cover up to hide the fatigue or the sadness; a show. Lipstick to create a smile. Concealer to hide a bad night. The more makeup I wore, the more there was to hide. Yet another uniform to put on for the working day; a professional face.
And now? The mask is gone. The real, tired me is on display and makeup has changed its role again. No longer concealing, hiding, but performing an act of self-care.

Thank you to everyone who joined in my twitter thread on makeup.