The Island Atelier


The magnifying side of the mirror is utterly unforgiving; the other side utterly useless. The light is rubbish too. The watts in the light bulb have mysteriously diminished over the past decade. This is a problem of eyes. The spiders now stay up all night creating cobwebs whenever the sun is scheduled to shine in the morning. And the dust cascades and the windows smear and bugs commit suicide in the corners of every room. This is nature’s ploy to protect middle aged skin: if it’s inside cleaning, it’s not outside suffering excessive exposure to sunlight.

The sun, along with half a century of too much living, has taken its toll. Eyes are embedded in crocodile sockets and the rest of face is doing astonishingly accurate imitation of Nile Delta. The face that stares back from the mirror is no longer mine. Somewhere along the line, it must have mated with an elderly iguana.

The aging of face goes in steps. Big sudden steps. It starts with a couple of scrunched supermarket bags appearing under eyes. This is a temporary horror. The bags become less conspicuous as the rest of face catches up. The second stage strikes at mouth. ‘I have done too much smiling,’ I commend myself. Then forehead retaliates with the assurance that I’ve done more frowning than smiling. Try to smile more. Smile reveals teeth and teeth reveal the origin of the expression ‘Long in the Tooth.’

The purpose of make-up ceases to be co-ordinating face with clothing or enhancement of best features. Making-up means making up for the travesties of time. Lips demonstrate the meaning of ‘bleeding lipstick’ and foundation means filler, ideally the same strength as the concrete mix used for house foundations.

Now comes payback time for those years spent laughing at the expressions men make whilst shaving. Now I make the same expressions whilst applying eye make-up. Eyes are best made up in solitary confinement. Then one has to solicit the opinion of a teenager (female preferred) to confirm that eyes resemble a pair. This is a tough challenge for eye make-up and a tougher challenge to teenage diplomacy because eyes are differently wrinkled and thus far from identical. ‘I think you need some brown stuff around the edges to blend in the black stuff,’ my daughter kindly informs me. Remove contact lenses and replace with glasses. Best disguise for asymmetric eyes.

Blusher is not a tool to embellish suntan and enhance cheek bones. It is a necessity to inject colour into colourless plate and detract from nose. Why menopause has switched surface supply of blood from cheeks to nose remains a mystery, but one that is all too evident. Cheekbones no longer have any need of defining. They are prominent ridges that exist with purpose: the curtain rails from which the rest of face is hung.

When my aunts muttered about going to powder their noses, I thought they were being pathetically coy about needing a pee. Untrue. Powder is a new addition to my make-up bag. Powder and man-sized tissues together form the post-hot flush emergency kit. Open pores are a by-product of hot flushes: pores forced open by pouring sweat. Once sweat is sopped with giant tissue, pores can be refilled with powder. Important note: rub powder in very thoroughly to prevent cracking during next smile or frown. Otherwise you may be mistaken for an Artexed wall and treated accordingly.

Men have hair transplants when balding occurs. Women do not need this. During menopause female hair transplants itself. This is a gravity fed transplant process. Hair is lost from its original site above the hairline and repositioned on the face. The thickest and darkest hairs will attempt to hide in the nostrils from whence they will protrude in the form of shaving brushes. The next grade down will implant itself on the upper lip and the chin. Finer hair distributes itself in random order over all remaining facial surfaces. All hair that misses the face on its descent from the head will settle indiscriminately on any available body part. Some will even find its way as far as toes where it will look exactly like small tufts of new grass after a late frost.

Once the female hair transplant is complete, it will function in exactly the same way as the male one. Every hair will root itself and grow from strength to strength. After a number of years, the hairs will be so well established that they will outstrip Giant Hogweed in both speed of growth and dimension. For every man grinning with glee at his new crop of hair, there are several hundred women glowering in pain with tweezers.

Menopause does not become the face. The face becomes someone else’s. I’d like mine back. But I know I’m not going to get it so I’ll just have to try and get along with its sequel. Along with the other couple of millions of my UK compatriots who are sharing my boat.

Now, where did I put those tweezers? I know I had them …