Category Archives: Beauty

Microplane foot grater

I think it’s about this time of year that people pull the sandals out and realise that they have neglected their feet all winter.

I have always looked after my feet. This is a legacy of a) never being allowed out of the house until I was 18, hence having lots of time on my hands to spend on my feet and b) I never wore high or restrictive shoes as a teenager so my feet were pretty nice and I wanted to look after them.

This ‘foot grater‘ however, takes things to a whole different level. I bought one about a year ago and the reviews warned “take care as it’s so addictive, you can end up with really sore feet”.

“What idiot would do that?” thought I, as I watched foot shavings fall off my feet. The next day I went to Orfordness on a massive walk and realised my feet hurt and that I was that idiot.

So be careful. What you do is basically grate the hard skin off your feet – it’s that hardcore but leaves your feet really soft – if you don’t overdo it. Nothing works as well as this – forget all other foot buffers/pumice stones etc. It is addictive and the little shavings do look like parmesan (sorry if you’re eating whilst reading this).

Whatever you do, don’t store this grater in the kitchen with your other Microplane graters. I think that’s why Microplane helpfully make it in pink.

This cream is really nice to rub in afterwards.

Little Ondine nail polish

I have, on the top shelf of my fridge (it seems to last longer in there), at least 30 bottles of nail varnish. Mostly Chanel, because that’s always been my favourite nail varnish make. Some of the bottles date back to my life pre-motherhood, and still the varnish works beautifully.

But I have a new nail polish love, and that is Little Ondine. Little Ondine is not like other nail polish. It has no solvents in it. It doesn’t smell. And it peels off. it’s cheaper than Chanel by almost half, the varnish is more chip resistant and the colours brighter and shinier. And, dare I say it, I think the colours are a bit more ‘on it’ than Chanel’s are these days,

I know, it’s like getting a divorce! All those things you once loved, now surpassed by someone new, different, maybe a bit younger. Definitely shinier and more eco-friendly.

The packaging is cute, too.

How to make your own reed diffuser


Last week I did some radio.

What usually happens when I do radio is that everyone who I know rings me up saying “YOU’RE ON THE RADIO”. Which is why you have to switch your phone absolutely off. I love doing radio, especially when it’s live, because there is part of me that just wants to take over the airwaves and say ‘fuckbollockshitcuntwank’. But of course I never do because then my radio career would be completely over.

But doing radio is a buzz and you come out of the studio all pumped up. So, now that I’ve told you that, quite gratuitously, I can tell you that I came out of Broadcasting House, having been a star for six minutes and as I blinked in the sunshine I realise that my family had quite forgotten about me. They’d gone off on a jaunt and the text messages hadn’t got through so I was completely alone. No idea what to do or where to go.

Now. Being completely alone in the West End is often the stuff of fantasy for me. I love the West End. I was born there, it’s my home. I know almost every shop along Oxford Street. The very thought of being able to wander, aimlessly and without time-limits or being asked if two women can have a baby or what’s a teenager or who decided if we should be happy or how far is it into space or how old was I when I started smoking or did I do drugs and if so were they uppies or downies, well, that thought often replays in my mind when I haven’t got two minutes to rub together.

So here I was. Alone, in the West End with no-one needing anything from me. And of course, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I went into all the shops until I finally gave myself up to John Lewis, the floors of which I backcombed until I was so up on its stock, I could have donned me an “INFORMATION” sash and diverted any customer to any corner of its emporium.

This is when I discovered that Johnny Loulous has almost an entire floor dedicated to reed diffusers. Reed diffusers are those room fragrance things that cost a fortune and involve liquid in a glass container with sticks sticking out of them. Like the picture above. They are supposed to fragrance a room continuously, but are safer than candles

I’ve been horribly spoiled over the years by expensive fragrance. I discovered Creed when I was 26, and there was no going back. It’s not the only perfume I wear now but I never wear anything that’s cheap. You can’t cheat with fragrance.

Unlike a body perfume, room fragrance doesn’t develop over time. It just is. So if it annoys the fuck out of you when you first smell it, the high chance is, it always will. We have Jo Malone’s Room Sprays in the bathroom (I grew up with an aunt who used plug in air fresheners which was enough to put me off for life. JM room sprays are not cheap but they are beautiful and they last years) and I once stupidly bought a ‘leather one’ – I can’t remember the exact name – hoping it would grow on me. It never did. All it does is really annoy me and I now realise that I don’t like any fragrance that purports to smell like leather anything.

But because I am slightly obsessed with nice smells, but it’s not practical to always light a candle or spray the room, I’ve sometimes looked at reed diffusers and thought about buying one. But a few things irk:

  1. Whenever I’ve smelled them in people’s houses they largely smell of nothing.
  2. They’re a bit 2011.
  3. The really nice ones cost a fortune.
  4. You often can’t get refills so you have to buy the whole thing again.
  5. The containers the fragrance comes in are often overly fancy and annoying and you’re paying for it.

So I got to the department chock full of reed diffusers and started to smell all of them. And the ones I really liked were by True Grace. Two really appealed – Greenhouse, * which smells of tomatoes ripening on the vine, and Wild Lime.

[*Note, I’ve linked to the candle because the room fragrance doesn’t appear to be on the TG website, but it does exist.]

Better yet, they sold refills for £18.50 (the original kit costs £32 which I think is a bit mad. Note: if you buy the refill direct from the True Grace Website, you also get 20 replacement reeds with it; you don’t if you buy it in John Lewis, despite it still costing £18.50 which is annoying).

This got me thinking. Why couldn’t you make your own?

So I did, I bought a refill (Greenhouse), took it home, put half of it in an old, clean Stokes’ Brown Sauce bottle (this is the best brown sauce ever), stuck some wooden skewers in and hey presto. A not cheap, but cheap-er reed diffuser refill for £9 a pop, but full of really extremely nice smelling stuff.

Two tips:

John Lewis also sells replacement reed diffusers for £3 for a bundle of short ones or £4 for a bundle of long ones. Reeds, of course, have little holes in them that the fragrance works up through but honestly? I’ve found wooden skewers work really well too. Don’t tell the fragrance industry though.

Turn the sticks upside down whenever you need to revive the scent. This is why most people’s smells of nothing after a while. If it gets too intense – which it won’t – remove some sticks.

I realise there are wars on. But if there’s not one going on in your home town and you fancy a nicer smelling house, try this.

Solid coconut massage oil

It wasn’t long ago that I brought you a bargain basement skincare product. And here is another one. Waitrose has a solid coconut massage oil, ostensibly for babies. It’s a super value £2.89 and it’s great.

It’s totally solid in the jar, which means that, unless you have a super hot bathroom – and I don’t – you need to warm it up first, otherwise you’ll be scraping at it with your fingernails. I chuck it in the bath with me and it goes all liquidy. This also means that it’s warm when you apply it, which I think is very luxurious. I use it on my children and on myself and it leaves skin greasy – don’t try getting dressed in your best silk bias cut dress afterwards – but really soft.

Silk pillowcases and how they might provide good skin and hair care

Silk pillow cases, said to reduce friction and therefore make your face less creased, your hair more glossy and less likely to fall out and generally the world to be a better place.

Last year, I went along to the John Lewis bed department as they were running “how to make a bed” workshops. I went along in a professional capacity because NO-ONE can teach me how to make a bed. I have a Napolitan mother and I was in the army. Although I rarely actually make my own bed, when I do, it is frighteningly precise.

And of course, I ended up teaching the people at John Lewis how to do a hospital corner. (They weren’t doing it properly at all.)

Anyway, while I was there we got talking about pillow cases and I did learn something new: that silk pillowcases are meant to stop your face creasing. I looked into this in a lazy, hazy way and I found out some women swore by silk pillowcases to stop your hair looking like you’ve been doing handstands in bed.

Although I have to say, I quite like my bed-hair.

And it made their faces less creasy and puffy in the morning.

Anyway. I got one and I’m simply not going to promise a silk pillowcase will offer a miracle anti-wrinkle/crease cure. But this is what I’ve found:

Your hair really does seem smoother and somehow more glossy after sleeping on one.

I don’t really suffer from creasy morning face (yet), because I took the precaution of selling my soul to the devil at an early age, and keeping a portrait in the attic. BUT yes, it does also seem…smoother.

My silk pillow doesn’t get as hot as my cotton one, by that I mean, I was constantly having to flip my pillow at night to get the colder side (am I the only one that does that?) and the silk doesn’t seem to get so hot.

I got my pillow case from John Lewis, but you can get cheaper ones and I thought it might make a nice thing to go on a Christmas present list.

The Tangle Teezer

Probably loads of you have already heard of this. It was a ‘Dragon’s Den’ reject a few years ago. But I hadn’t heard of it, or seen one, or noticed them hanging there in haircare aisle. One of the juniors at my hairdressers used one on my head two weeks ago and I said “what’s that?”

And what it was was a Tangle Teezer or a hairbrush that looks like a dog/horse’s grooming brush (I actually think the addition of a strap around the back of it would be no bad thing).

They come in three permutations. This one which is the original, and you can pick them up from £9 to about £13 depending on where you shop and what colour you go for (I actually choose black but I got this flourescent pink, that’s Amazon for you). Purple glitter, for example, costs the most as it’s ‘limited edition’. There’s a child’s version which is round and comes in a flower pot and then there’s a mini version. I think this is the best – read easiest to use.

Anyway, children love it – it sails through dry or wet hair with ease and every one fought to use my daughter’s at swimming (because of its design, it’s really easy to clean so that didn’t freak me out like it normally would). The the point of it is that it’s a tangle destroyer that works without pulling the hair. I love it, it’s kinda massaging. You can’t style with it, it’s really for just combing knots out. Not 100% sure how it’d cope with really thick hair, it struggled with the thicker bits of mine.

You might be able to see here that the ‘teeth’ are in two lengths – that’s apparently the secret of its success. And they’re bendy.

Anyway, you can buy them on line or in Boots/just about anywhere.

Revolutionary new treatment for verrucas!

Bet you’re glad you discovered this blog. It’s so full of useful, glamorous things. Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll sneak a designer bag in next week.


In the meantime, something more useful. How to treat a verruca without spending very much money at all.

Despite growing up next to a swimming pool (and using it regularly) I have never had a verruca. But my eldest caught/grew/developed one a few months ago. Now for those that don’t know, a verruca is simply a wart that grows inwards (because the weight of walking on your foot means it can’t grow outwards), and those black bits you see are the blood vessels.

So we did the usual and bought Bazooka that Verruca and nothing really happened. Then another verruca grew and I started to worry that my child would become like one of those freaks that has a verruca farm on her feet (this happened to my cousin, she had about eighteen of them). So after a few months of painting on Bazooka and nothing happening I texted my friend Mary, who is a GP, and asked her if I should take my daughter to the docs to have the verruca frozen off with liquid nitrogen. “Yes, you can,” she texted back, “or you can try something else that seems to be having lots of success.” I bit my fingers whilst I waited to hear what that something else was. Perhaps something illegal. That would be exciting.

“Electrical tape” she texted.  She said it would take a few months, but the Bazooka had done nothing in a few months so thought it was worth a try. So I bought some, from the market stall. It was 35p (yellow, if it matters) and I swear in less than a fortnight, all the verrucas had gone.

This is, of course, ground breaking news because it could bring down the fortunes of various over the counter remedies. I don’t know, perhaps it was fluke, but try it. I’m guessing electrical tape works the best as it’s very sticky and watertight, but all you do is cut a little piece, stick it over the verruca and replace every day/few days.

Let me know how you get on.

A 2014 update: we only use this now for verruca treatment and it’s amazing, especially if you can catch them early. For us it’s effective in less than a week.

Make up for legs

I’m not presenting this one by Sally Hansen as the best out of a month’s long testing exercise. It’s simply that someone left a couple of cans of it in my boyfriend’s studio and he brought them home and passed them over to me with a little shoulder-shrug: “I thought you might find a use for these.”

A couple of years ago a friend of mine came round to my house and her legs looked very good – smooth, nice colour, absolutely nothing false about the look of them. She told me she had on some leg make up by Revlon or Rimmel. I never got any but the first day this year that I got my legs out and realised that, despite having 100% Italian DNA, my legs were very white, I remembered that I had some ‘make up for legs’ reached for a can of this and really liked it.

I’m not a fan of fake tan anymore. I don’t really sunbathe, but I really liked this. You don’t have to have any of the precision of fake tan, you squirt it on and rub it in and you can tell there and then if you’ve made a mistake. It won’t make pale legs look like they’ve spent a week on a sunny beach, but it does even out the flaws and take the deathly pale off and enable you to get your legs out and feel that bit more confident about them – it’s what it says: make up for legs.


One of the reasons I started this blog, was that, being a consumer journalist, I get a fair amount of calls/emails from friends asking me about stuff they want to buy: “Should I buy this, should I buy that, what’s the best one to get” etc. Or, from  my friend Mark (I was SO going to name you in full but shan’t) “do I need an electric food steamer? (no, just use a pan with a steamer on the top); do I need an electric rice cooker? (no, just use a pan FFS); do I need a cappuccino machine (yes).

I’m not complaining, it’s a privilege, etc, but when you’ve got two young children, it’s not always easy to chat. So much easier to say “go look at my blog”.

Many moons ago, I used to write a column called Dear Annie in the Independent on Sunday (and, for a bit, the Observer); it was like being a doctor at a party (except SO much more important). I’d get people coming up to me saying “I need a dress for a wedding a week Saturday, what do you suggest?” I still get emails from readers asking me about clothing issues, even though I stopped writing the column some years ago. When I was fishing correspondent of the Independent I used to get people phoning me up in a panic at the supermarket: “Can I buy cod?” “The prawns are from Madagascar, is that okay?” “What is it about farmed salmon that I should know?”

Now that I’ve neatly told you some of the things I used to do, as a by the by, I can also slip in another one, as co-founder of a parenting website (no not that one, this one: I’ve been hugely fortunate in learning lots from other mums. Nothing like a bit of collective wisdom is there? And one of the things I learned, luckily fairly early on, was that steam is a valuable tool in the fight against snot.

This is relevant because the question I’ve been asked three times so far this week is about babies or children having colds. Now, do I need to point out, (do I really need to? I guess so) that I’m not at doctor. I have no idea if you should take your child to the doctor or not. But when my children have colds one of the things that helps is a steamer. You know, a slightly more sophisticated approach than standing over a sink full of boiling water. Which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do except it’s not a great mix: young children and boiling water. And anyway, you get only a short amount of time between the water being so hot you can’t get near it or too cold.

The Vicks Warm Steam Vaporiser, about £30

For the night time, this steamer by Vicks is really worth getting (it makes a great, if boring-looking, new baby present). Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s anything special: it ain’t. It’s a big hulk of plastic that sits on the floor, heats water up and lets warm steam out. There’s a little compartment where you can put essential oils ‘n’ stuff. When the water runs out, it switches off. The lid is sort-of locked down but I still wouldn’t risk it with very young children (what I found was that the steamer was great when they’re babies and trapped in their cots, and when they’re older and you can say “look it’s hot, don’t touch it” but there’s a period in the middle, where they’re mobile but have no sense, where you might not be able to use it). You put it on at night and it fills the room with warm steam, making it easier for them to breathe. It’s not a miracle cure, but it can really help, especially with coughs.

For older children, and adults, this electric steam inhaler by Vicks is a good addition, you put your face right over it and inhale. (Note: I have no experience of the site I linked to, I got mine from Amazon but it doesn’t seem to sell it anymore, or at the moment.) It’s highly recommended if you have sinus problems (I find steam, and sinus massage one of the few things that work when my sinuses are inflamed and I can feel my teeth). And especially useful when you’re pregnant and get a cold/sinus inflammations and can’t take much.

It holds a small amount of water – enough for about fifteen minutes of steaming. It heats it up and lets it out a consistent temperature, and you can control how fierce it is by shutting down some vents. Or something like that. You do have to stand over the counter top (you can’t really do it whilst watching TV unless you get an extension cable out), but it’s really great to do before bed as it helps you breathe. I use it on my six year old when she has a cold but she gets bored after about ten seconds.

I hate to think about the seasons changing and colds a-visiting. But it looks like they might be and when you’re bunged up you can’t really eat or enjoy cake so much.

Chanel’s Paradoxal nail varnish: the new Rouge Noir.

I have about thirty bottles of nail varnish in my fridge*. Nearly all of them Chanel. I’m a total sucker for its nail varnishes. I love the colours. I love the bottles. I love feeling a bit posh for having it.

But of all its shades, the one I still go back to, again and again, is Rouge Noir. That gorgeous black/red colour perfect for girls such as I who just don’t do, and never did do, bright red. (Tis the shade Uma Thurman wore in Pulp Fiction. When it launched in early 1994, it sold out almost immediately, and then there were waiting lists of up to a year; it’s still Chanel’s best seller in terms of units sold.)

Each time I get a new shade I think “this might be the new Rouge Noir” but it never is. I’ve done the blues, and the greys and the pinks. I’ve done the glitters at Christmas (always a bugger to get off) and they’re all lovely. But they’re not Rouge Noir. The thing about Rouge Noir is that it’s perfect. It doesn’t look too dressed up, whilst still always looking groomed and fabulous.

This Friday, Chanel launch its latest shade: Paradoxal. I’m guessing, so named cos it’s hard to label. In certain lights it looks violet, or metallic purple, then grey, then brown. I love it. (Yes I have some, I’ve been wearing it for a few weeks now.)

Okay so it probably won’t trump Rouge Noir, but nothing else has come this close in sixteen years.

*they last longer that way.

Chanel’s latest nail polish launches this Friday 13th August. And yes it’s important.