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Friday, 14 February 2020

What I've Been Hearing, Watching and Reading

Is This Mutton's review of books, TV and podcasts for February 2020

Dear friends. My occasional round-up of great reading, TV and podcasts starts with the marvellous writer Marian Keyes. 

I pre-ordered her new book Grown Ups  although I've decided to save it for my summer holiday. She featured in two of my favourite podcasts this week, How to Fail, and Fortunately with Fi and Jane.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Latest Podcast, Book and TV Recommendations

Over 50s woman listening to music with headphones on
Hi folks and welcome to Five for FriYAY, the occasional post that celebrates the coming weekend and gives some suggestions for great reading, viewing and listening.

Podcast: Postcards from Midlife 

There are quite a few new podcasts aimed for women in mid life. They usually cover all the negative aspects of being older, so unless there's humour, I find them a bit of a turn-off.

The Times has launched a new podcast called Postcards from Midlife, featuring Lorraine Candy, editor of their Style magazine and former editor of Elle, and Trish Halpin, former editor of Marie Claire and Red.  Both women are in their early 50s. The first episode featured a discussion on libido with Suzy Godson. A very promising start: the chemistry between Candy and Halpin is good, and there are a few jokes and witticisms.

Podcast: Man In The Window

If you like true crime, Man In The Window from LA Times/Wondery is an absolutely superb example of the genre.  It covers the crimes of a serial rapist and serial killer known variously as the East Area Rapist and the Golden State Killer. The criminal started his spree in the early 70s and committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California until 1986.  He was only recently apprehended, thanks to amazingly complex and detailed genetic research.

The podcast is meticulously researched and presented by Paige St. John, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter. What's most fascinating about it is the attitude in the 70s towards rape.  It was hardly ever investigated as a crime.  Women who were raped were expected to keep quiet about it. There was certainly no counselling or help to recover.

One of the reasons that the serial killer and rapist went undiscovered for so long was that police forces refused to co-operate with each other, and there were often political reasons for not wanting to expose a series of crimes in an area. It was largely thanks to amateur crime buffs and retired police officers that progress was made.

The last episode is a discussion about attitudes to rape in the 70s and 80s. One of the saddest aspects of the case is that the law of statute in California expired very quickly in the 70s, so the criminal cannot be convicted for the rapes committed then.

TV: The Witcher, Atypical and Wisting 

We haven't had Netflix for long so we're like over-excited kids in the sweet shop.  Atypical is an amusing series about an adolescent with Asperger's and his family life. It's honest and can be both poignant and funny.  I was pleased to see Jennifer Jason-Leigh who was in some memorable films in the 90s, including the creepy Single White Female.

The Witcher is the "latest Game of Thrones clone," a fantasy series featuring Guernsey heart throb Henry Cavill. It's based on a series of novels by a Polish writer that are even more successful than GoT.  The series is not as good as GoT but it's entertaining. The main drawback is that not much is explained, so you're constantly having to look things up.

The drama constantly veers between the past, the present and the future, and it's hard to identify which period we're in. The Witcher is a man of few words but has a memorable and varied selection of grunts. Apparently he was a lot more talkative in the books, but the silent and brooding version portrayed by Cavill won the day.

Finally, on BBC 4  (and the iPlayer), Wisting, the Norwegian detective, was also dealing with a serial killer plus two members of the FBI who were flown over to help.  Episode five was absolutely gripping. Highly recommended.

Books: Another Tour de Force from Ian McEwan

The cover of Ian McEwan's book Machines Like Me
In his latest novel Ian McEwan confronts the imminent battlefield of Artificial Intelligence and morals and ethics.  Machines Like Me is set in a surreal 1982 where Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister has lost the Falklands War and is soon to be replaced by Tony Benn.  There is civil unrest because of robots replacing humans at work, and autonomous cars are commonplace.

A shiftless man, Charlie Friend, spends an inheritance on buying one of the first artificial humans, Adam.  Charlie and his girlfriend, who lives upstairs, agree to independently program Adam in terms of how they want to shape his personality, from various check lists.

Jealousy rears its ugly head when Charlie realises his girlfriend has been having sex with Adam, and Adam believes he is in love with her.  But worse is to come when the robot takes a very black and white view of a legal issue, and is unable to deal with nuances and interpretation as humans would. And faced with being used as slaves, and finding themselves in a world they can't understand, the artificial humans struggle to cope.  A fascinating and accessible read.

Books: Queenie, the Black Woman's Bridget Jones?

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams has been described thus, but I think it diminishes the quality and impact of this powerful book, which was short listed for the Costa First Novel Award.  The blurb on Amazon doesn't help:  "Queenie Jenkins can't cut a break. Well, apart from the one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That's definitely just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Then there's her boss who doesn't seem to see her and her Caribbean family who don't seem to listen (if it's not Jesus or water rates, they're not interested). She's trying to fit in two worlds that don't really understand her. It's no wonder she's struggling."

There's far more to the book than it seems.  Queenie is trying to get through depression and has spiralled into self-destructive behaviour.  She emerges triumphant. I love the humorous touches and the sense of community in London.

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Friday, 15 November 2019

Five For FriYAY: The Best Book, Pod and Beauty Recommendations

ARK Skincare Skinperfect Firming Serum reviewed by beauty and style blog for the over-50s Is This Mutton?
Five For FriYAY is an occasional post where I share my latest recommendations for beauty products, books, podcasts, TV, exhibitions. First up, ARK Firming Serum. ARK is a British skincare company whose products are free from parabens, mineral oil, formaldehyde and other nasties. You can shop by age and/or concern at their website.

I've been using ARK's products, gifted, for a while now, and my skin is looking brighter with a more even skin tone. It feels well hydrated, there are no dry patches, and so I am pleased with the skincare I've been using  (find my earlier posts on ARK here and here).

ARK's The Firming Serum is aimed at all age groups.

I can't say I have noticed a major firming effect after just one week, but I test products for three months so I'll let you know later. What I do like is the hyaluronic acid formula. I'm passionate about the need for women over 40 to use hyaluronic acid under their moisturizer. It makes such a big difference and you can buy them quite cheaply.

Podcast Recommendations

I'm enthralled by a "rich seam" podcast (where there are lots of episodes available) called Criminal.  I love the quirky and the unusual, and Criminal is all about offbeat true crimes. They are fascinating stories, beautifully produced and narrated by a woman with a most hypnotic voice.  The episodes include interviews and the Criminal website features a new illustration for every episode.

I have, so far, particularly enjoyed the episodes "The Less People Know About Us," where the podcast revisits a woman whose identity was stolen by her mother (who also did the same to her husband) and Off Leash, where we meet a dog trainer who was seduced by a prisoner in jail and persuaded to help him escape in one of her dog crates. Don't miss the story of Count Von Cosel, utterly fascinating - and disquieting. He was a self-styled doctor who attempted to give eternal life to a patient he had been unable to save.

One podcast which has had a lot of hype has left me cold.  It's the BBC's The Missing Cryptoqueen. Now, a few months ago I absolutely loved a US podcast documentary series called The Drop Out which examined the Theranos scandal. Theranos was a medical start up created by university drop out, Elizabeth Holmes. The charismatic Holmes modelled herself on Steve Jobs and it's a jaw dropping tale of fame and ambition gone wrong. The podcast was pacey with lots of interviews.

In The Missing Cryptoqueen, we have Dr Raja Ignatova, another one said to style herself on Steve Jobs, who persuaded millions to buy into her holistic bitcoin operation. Then she mysteriously disappeared. I was initially excited but then there was a lot of hype about the final episode which put me off the rest. It turns out (spoiler alert) the mystery is still unsolved, so I couldn't be bothered to listen.

Must See Exhibition: Tutankhamun

The Tutankhamun exhibition is back in London for the last time. One hundred and fifty artifacts are on display at the Saatchi Gallery, many being shown for the first time outside of Egypt. The exhibitions ends on 3 May. After a couple more tours, including Boston, the collection will move to its permanent home, a splendid new museum in Egypt, and will never tour again.

There were three striking moments for me, and they weren't the usual fantastic coffins and gold masks.

Among the items in the boy king's tomb was a collection of boomerangs.  They were not the right shape to come back, but were used at the time to kill wildlife, as a sport.  King Tut was only 19 so his boomerangs accompanied him so that he could have some sport in his after life.
Boomerangs placed in the tomb of King Tutankhamun for his after life sport
I loved this amulet of his grandfather, Amenhotep III, placed in the tomb to protect the young king.
Amulet of Amenhotep III at the Tutankhamun Exhibition in London
I was shocked to come face to face with a picture of the mummified remains of the boy as the last exhibit, and how life-like it still looked, with teeth present. I found this amazing, considering how ancient the mummy is.  It felt like an intimate moment, gazing at the remains of a person who once lived, and quite wrong to take a picture.

It's all very well staged and there's the inevitable "have a photo taken with your choice of scenery" moment as you enter the building. Unfortunately only one picture is taken and it wasn't our most flattering look!

It's amazing to consider that after his death, in turbulent times, all memories of Tutankhamun were swept away and statues destroyed. It was as if he never lived.  But now, he is the most famous Pharoah of them all.

I have heard the exhibition gets crowded at peak times. When we went, mid afternoon on a Thursday, it was fine and there was plenty of room.  You might want to take a day off to go during the week  to avoid the crowds.

Book recommendation: Olive Again and Our Rainbow Queen

First, Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout.  The first book about Olive Kitteridge was made into a memorable TV series where the irascible and curmudgeonly Olive was played by the fantastic Frances Dormand.
The cover of new book Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, reviewed by Is This Mutton style blog.
In the second book, the narrative is not continually about Olive but introduces us to some of her neighbours and acquaintances in the small coastal Maine town of Crosby. We see how they interact with Olive. For all her direct talking and disdain for small talk, Olive is interested in people and unwittingly draws them out. She doesn't turn away from the woman who is dying whose husband is terrified and whose friends have stopped visiting.

Olive finds a new husband in her late 70s and we see a side of her that lingers in all of us, the desire for love and attention. 

There is probably a lot of Olive in all of us because the older we get the more fearless we become, until poor health makes us vulnerable again. 

I'm on the final chapter where Olive is elderly and perplexed at how fearful and anxious she has become. It sounds like it may be a depressing read but in fact it's the opposite.  Strout's writing and observations are so fine that it's a pleasure to be savoured.

One of my birthday presents was this gorgeous little book by Guardian writer Sali Hughes, who professes to being fascinated by the Queen and the colours she wears. 

When  you see the Queen in her monochrome splendour and fantastic jewellery, you can't help but agree that she has taken her duty very seriously in terms of making sure she always stands out in a crowd. 

She has always upheld certain standards. A hat is never worn while eating (although a tiara is fine);  gloves are always worn to avoid germs;  skirts are weighted with grommets to avoid any embarrassing incidents in the wind. The Queen has been the backdrop to our lives, a constant reassuring presence. 

The Queen rarely wears neutrals but here she is in white, below. It's good to see how glamorous and fashion-forward she looked when young. The book also features the Queen in some of the prints which she only rarely has worn.  It's amazing how inconspicuous she becomes in prints and florals. If you want to stand out, a bright or distinctive colour in monochrome is the way. 

If you have any book, TV, film or podcast recommendations to brighten our weekends, do let us know in the comments below. 

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Friday, 25 October 2019

Five For FriYay: Reading, Podcasts, Beauty

Is This Mutton shows a pair of white hosiery gloves, ideal for preventing ladders when putting on sheer tights
Welcome to Five for FriYay, my occasional post on what I've been reading, listening to, watching and trying.

I look like a magician above but those white gloves are a godsend if, like me, you have ruined sheer tights just pulling them on. I have had so many instances over the years where a finger has created a hole or ladder, and I was unable to wear the tights in question!

Friday, 6 September 2019

Five for Fri-Yay: September 6

A contemporary pale pink armchair from Marks and Spencer
My occasional round-up of five things I'm loving right now. First, let me introduce you to Mimi my new bedroom chair! I've always wanted a pretty chair for the bedroom but have never found one in the right colour. Then I saw this Mimi chair in Marks and Spencer - the perfect pink. It will add a little variety to my indoor blogging shoots. It's so comfortable I may even sit on it and read a book.

Fabulous Cleanser 

Special 10th anniversary packaging for Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm with exfoliating seeds
I absolutely love Emma Hardie's Moringa Cleansing Balm, and this is the special packaging for the product's 10th anniversary, which includes some exfoliating seeds.  It's a large jar and although it seems pricey, I'm still using the same size jar I bought before Christmas. It's the most luxurious of cleansers: it feels so indulgent yet it's highly effective and leaves your skin smooth and glowing.

The Beauty Podcast with Sali Hughes

This has shot into my top 10 podcasts  (and indeed, the national podcast chart). The first episode featured beauty blogger Caroline Hirons and cosmetic scientist Sam Farmer discussing the notion of "Clean Beauty."  It was jaw dropping! Apparently there is not one 100% natural beauty product - they all contain chemicals of some sort. In a no-nonsense way the team dispelled myths about parabens and sulphates, and laughed at how some products claim to be "not treated on animals"  (which is actually the law!) and "gluten free," as if beauty products actually contain gluten. Well, maybe one or two do, but you get the idea.

The second episode was on bridal beauty - but don't let that put you off, it was fascinating. They even discussed something which has always intrigued me: why do brides suddenly decide to have ringlets or put their hair up, when they never do it normally?

Latest Reading

I'm going through a phase of reading crime thrillers. It's unchallenging and all I need for 30 minutes before I fall asleep.

I've just read an intriguing book called Sleep by C.L. Taylor. A woman is stricken by guilt after being the driver of a car in an accident which killed two of her colleagues and paralyzed a third. She flees to a hotel job on a remote island in Scotland. She seems have a stalker who's obsessed about sleep. In a sinister way. Which hotel guest is it?

Latest TV Viewing

I'm kind of enjoying Interior Design Masters (BBC2), mainly for Fearne Cotton's outfits, but it's not as gentle and informative as the programme it replaced, The Great Interior Design Challenge. In this new incarnation, the team of hopefuls is quite spiteful about each other's efforts, and it's rare that they turn in a decent design in my opinion - too little time or budget. They don't even seem to see the rooms they're designing until they turn up on the day with the brief already prepared.

I'm looking forward to the inaugural episode of Strictly Come Dancing although we'll be watching it on catch-up later as we're out on the big night.

Arrival of a New Season

It feels decidedly autumnal today and the trees are rapidly changing colour.  I used to dread the arrival of autumn but this year I'm welcoming it. I don't do gingerbread lattes or Halloween but these are my top 10 reasons for liking autumn this year:
1. Put away the fake tan! I use it mostly on my legs but in autumn you don't have to.
2. Get the tights out. I love tights in crazy colours and patterns.
3. No need for pedicures.  I still look after my feet in autumn and winter but I don't have to keep applying new polish to my nails because they're going to be seen every day.
4. Crunchy leaves to walk through.
5. The garden can have a well deserved rest, and so can I  (apart from sorting out myriad containers and planting bulbs for spring).
6. The winter clothes.  I welcome them down from the loft as old friends. The soft caress of cashmere. The satisfying ping of leather in an ankle boot. The hats, the gloves. The fleeces. A far more pleasing selection, to me, than summer's flimsy offerings.
7. Snuggling. No fear of missing out (FOMO), it's best to stay in on dark cold evenings and watch TV or read.
8. The promise of Christmas. Our ancestors were very wise in creating this festival in the middle of winter. This year I've already booked a Christmas carol concert at the Royal Albert Hall and ordered a wooden Nativity Set - something I've always wanted.
9. The occasional perfect winter's day:  blue sky, crisp coldness, and winter sun.
10. No need for sun cream.  Not in the UK in winter.  Yay!

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Style blogger Gail Hanlon dressed for a winter's walk in Epping Forest
 winter's walk, February 2018

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Friday, 16 August 2019

Five for Fri-Yay! Podcasts, Books, Brooches And More

Close up of a bee bug brooch from Marks and Spencer, AW19
It's Fri-Yay! Aren't you glad? Mr Mutton is off on another extreme cycling holiday tomorrow, to Scotland and the Hebrides. The weather is promising hail, rain and winds of 30 miles per hour on Sunday and Monday, so good luck with that one, darling :-)

Here are my Five for Fri-Yay, a quick update on what I've been using, reading, listening to and watching - plus a cute brooch!

Podcasts for Mid Lifers

Putting aside my liking for true crime podcasts  (and a rich seam with "Canadian True Crime"), I have been listening to a few of the podcasts for mid life women which have started popping up.

The Hot and Moody Podcast, as its name might suggest, is aimed at peri and menopausal women.  It's now in its second series.  I listened to episode 1 of the new series where the two presenters spoke to Lisa Dunnington from Hempworx who was talking about the latest wonder product, CBD Oil. She started using CBD Oil to improve her sleep;  relieving menopause symptoms came later.

The Older and Wider Podcast has a great pedigree. It's presented by well known comedian Jenny Eclair and producer/writer Judith Holden. They chat about general topics and the menopause, and have guests. A good listen, professionally produced.

In similar vein, middle aged women being very funny, is Fortunately With Fi and Jane. This one can be quite hit and miss. I love the banter between Jane Garvey (Woman's Hour) and Fi Glover for the first few minutes of the show, where they expatiate on all manner of crazy topics (as we do). They then have a guest, and sometimes if the guest is not entirely to their liking (Will Self), it fizzles out. But when guests are great value, like Emily Maitlis, Gyles Brandreth and Matthew Banister, it's a joy. Please ladies, let's have fewer of the woke millennials that we've never heard of.

Magnificent Midlife with Rachel Lankester celebrates the older woman. Topics and interviewees have included Professor Joyce Harper on rethinking menopause and HRT,  and becoming a professional bodybuilder at 48.

The Experience 50 Podcast is a long running US production. Again the formula is speaking to women who have had amazing mid life transformations, plus topics such as fitness, health, finding love over 50.

You can find all these podcasts at your normal podcast provider. I'd love to know your recommendations.

Busy Bee Brooch

I like to wear a few brooches on my jackets in winter, and the little bee brooch at the top is so cute! Just £12.50.  It would make a great tree present for those of you, like me, who start collecting presents early on.

Favourite self tanner

You may think I'm a bit late with this one but summer may yet make a reappearance.  I had a trial tube of St Tropez Gradual Tan Watermelon Infusion in a holiday beauty box, and I really liked it.  It's described as an everyday body lotion, and you can apply it straight after the shower without needing to moisturise first. Plus it doesn't sting if you've just shaved your legs. It gives a slightly darker colour than the Dove product I had been using, so you don't always need a second application.  The scent is pretty and the fake tan odour is very slight, a few hours later.
The pink and green bottle of St Tropez Gradual Tan Watermelon Infusion

What I've Been Watching

This time of the year is a bit of a desert. We're quite fussy and we've tried a lot of the dramas doing the rounds but not liked them.  So we're currently re-watching Line of Duty.  

I enjoyed the first of Kathy Burke's three-part documentary series, All Woman, although it was lacking in journalistic rigour.  Actor and producer Kathy is a national treasure, outspoken, funny and straight talking. She told us she's perfectly happy with her own fat self, and then went on to explore why so many young women seek to improve their looks, taking a warts and all look at the beauty industry.
Kathy Burke star of Channel 4 documentary All Woman. Image: The Guardian

The chat with "Fat Sue," a friend of Burke's and the muse painted by Lucien Freud, wasn't very illuminating:  Sue didn't get much of a word in. And I felt Burke should have been directed to be tougher on some of the people she interviewed, such as the plastic surgeon who had given his wife a few little "refreshes."

What I've Been Reading

Candace Bushnell is 60 now, and single again after a divorce a few years ago.  She still looks fabulous as you can see, and has probably been to the plastic surgeon in Kathy Burke's programme. 

Her new book  Is There Still Sex in the City? reflects on life after things have gone wrong for some of her peer group.  It starts off with Bushnell's experiences with Tinder, and how women of a certain age invariably get pursued by "cubs" who are looking for places to live. Then there's a diversion about plastic surgery to rejuvenate the lady bits. And then we're back to "Take Tia" "Take Melissa" and more depressing stories of ladies conned by men, left high and dry by men - you get the picture.
Candace Bushnell, writer of Is There Still Sex in the City?

I found it all a bit depressing. Men are variously dismissed as losers and low lifes, and there's a deep vein of cynicism.  The vaguely cheerful note at the end, as she reflected on good friendships with women, came too late for me. 

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