Sali Hughes is one of my favourite journalists. I came across her in the Guardian and in Red magazine and she taught me how to do makeup. When her Facebook group found a new home in Salihughesbeauty.com, I followed and was even more delighted when she joined the pool. If I had a big sister, I’d hope she’d be like Sali.
If I were to talk about women who have shaped me, I would include Sali Hughes on the list, which sounds more than a little fawning, but I realise now that it’s true.
A big part of being an adult woman, for me, is looking like one and her articles and videos help me find what my face could be. It’s how I began to love beauty and experiment a little and be brave with my money. She talks very candidly about her friendships, her relationships with her (now ex-) husband, her family and friends and her partner. I find I pay more attention when she writes about a topic, to see if it chimes with what I think and often her writing challenges me to think beyond my own experiences.
Caitlin Moran, Lucy Mangan, Hadley Freeman, India Knight, Mallory Ortberg, Nicole Cliffe, these women, these writers are friendly and witty and take no prisoners. I think of them as an online Girl Squad that I admire from across the playground. They share truths and bring light and are pretty darn hilarious.
Anyway, this is a preamble to excusing that I’m about to rip off one of Sali Hughes’ articles.
Sali wrote an article for The Pool: The Very Simple Guide to Being a Proper Grown Up, where she details “tiny, insignificant moments and much subtler changes” which made her feel she’d grown up, that she’d done alright and “was progressing along some kind of continuum. They’re seemingly so insignificant, so unmomentous and, crucially, are mostly not age-related, but they really meant something and, for me personally, better represent a grown-up” these included owning booze, being called “a lady” by a stranger, never running out of toilet paper, making a will, checking out the care label before the garment, keeping basil alive, removal men packing her forks and thinking “fuck it” on a daily basis.
These are all great, but mine are a bit different. Obviously, the point of this blog and my project in general is to work on being an adult. I’m 32 now, so I’ve got some things worked out. Here are the small things that make me feel like I’ve got it sorted out at least a little.
1) Having frozen lemon and lime slices.
This is my number one hostessing tip. I can’t remember where I originally stole the idea from, but I read somewhere that you can slice a lime into quarters, place them on a strip of cling film and then freeze them so you always have ice and lime for a g&t. Someone once gifted me a whoopie pie tin (I believe their exact words were “I have two children under the age of three. Quite why anyone thought I would have time for making something this arduous, is beyond me, but you might find some use for this”) which I never used for whoopie pies, but did instead freeze lemon and lime slices centred in water in for a party. The effect was remarkable. The discs were quite attractive in a water jug. The whoopie pie has since been gifted to Capon (my words were “I’m downsizing from a three storey townhouse to a bedroom in a basement flat. Maybe you have space for this?”) But I still freeze lemon and lime slices and keep them in a bag in the freezer. One of my vices in bottled water (I know, I know, it’s so bad for the environment, but it is so much fancier than tap water and is a good substitute for an alcoholic drink) and a frozen lemon slice tarts it right up. It also looks pretty good on the odd occasion where I have someone over. It looks like I’ve got it going on.
2) Having guest towels and toothbrushes.
In my family, for reasons I have never understood, we only ever use hand towels. No one has a bath sheet. Shower, dry yourself, get dressed in the bathroom or pop your dressing gown back on and dress in your room. No modesty-providing bath towels required. Maybe hand towels for a family of five were easier to keep in rotation and launder in the Northern Irish climate. Anyway, when I first moved to England for university, I experienced the luxury of my very own towels. Hand and bath. They were also soft and fluffy. In our house, towels doubled as an exfoliator. Fabric softener and fluffy towels were for Protestants (this is a Northern Ireland reference which is not meant as offence!), not God-fearing Catholics. This is something that I have yet to shake. My towels are still a now a bit on the skin-sloughing side, but the set of towels I have for guests are massive and fluffy and gorgeous. I’d use them myself if I threw caution to the wind. There’s something I find quite rewarding being able to say “here is a set of towels for you” casually to people who stay over.
I also have a stack of toothbrushes. Not deliberately for guests, but because the hotel in Korea put out a double pack every day and I came home with about twenty of them. I hadn’t realised how good they were until I had to use one and now I am mildly regretful that I gave them out to guests with such wild abandon.
3) Owning a wardrobe of what the French would call ‘ensembles’
As a nation, the UK is not known for its lingerie. That’s the French. Those fancy ladies spend their days in matching underthings without even thinking about it and apparently do not even know about “multipacks.” Well, they don’t have M&S or John Lewis, poor dears. For many many years I spent as little money as possible on underwear. No one saw it (I hardly took my time over dressing and my outfits didn’t require that level of detail), I didn’t think about it and it didn’t seem worth it. Somewhere along the line, this changed. It may have been to do with the many many “French women are just BETTER” books I read, when I realised something wasn’t quite right about my life and I was looking for some general guidance. Being particularly flat chested, there weren’t many options that were particularly pretty and nothing seemed to quite fit. Off the back of a thread on the Sali Hughes Facebook group, I re-measured myself for brassieres and found that, actually, I had a standard cup size and a small band size. This changed everything. Bras fit. They looked better. I could find some quite pretty things. It started with a few random Calvin Klein pieces from Tk Maxx that didn’t have any matching items and eventually worked up to actual sets. Now I have some particularly nice chemises and ensembles and hosiery. They are definitely not every day wear, but they are gorgeous and they do fit and I do wear them. They are displayed in an otherwise pointless drawer with tissue paper and every time I open it, sometimes even just to look, I am gleeful to have such pretty things.
4) Complaining efficiently to customer service
On the whole, Northern Irish people do not like to make a fuss when it comes to customer service. We’d sooner chalk up a bad experience to One Of Those Things and just not go back there. I don’t know whether it’s my age or living in England, but that is no longer how I do things. I will not accept poor service. I still hate confrontation, but I value my time and money more now than I do a shopkeeper’s opinion. At work I happily write letters of complaint/feedback for colleagues who fear they don’t have the language skills to take on big companies. To be honest, I enjoy writing them. I’m never rude and I never shout, but I do make a point that I’m unhappy and I won’t leave until the situation is resolved.
5) Talking to children
Kids used to terrify me. I knew I had to talk to them, but I had no idea how to do this. I’ve recently discovered that you just ask them questions. And if you have no idea what they’re talking about, ask them. Children: they’re just small people. Who knew? It’s actually quite amusing to ask kids under ten about Brexit. Find a child and ask them about Europe.
6) Being prepared
My handbag, desk drawer and dresser always have painkillers and plasters. I always have an emergency cocktail dress/funeral outfit (often the same, actually, but that says more about the universality of black, than my social life) and I can put my hands on lipbalm, handcream or a pen in fewer than ten seconds at any moment of the day. I carry emergency toilet and taxi money (two 50p pieces and a twenty pound note) in a button bag in my wallet. Alright, perhaps I am lugging round more than I really need, but if I don’t have those, disaster will befall the day.
7) Folding a fitted sheet
There is nothing that makes me feel more like a boss (or a witch) than folding a fitted sheet and storing it in my linen box. Nothing. I can no longer watch someone manhandle a fitted sheet without involving myself.
8) Cleaning things
I like things to be clean, sparkly and germ-free. Like cookery books, when I can’t sleep, I find household craft books to be immensely soothing. Bleach, white vinegar, baking soda, Fairy up liquid, borax (although I have never actually seen borax in real life) – there’s not much they can’t do. Clean your brass with ketchup. Pop a bowl of water and half a lemon in your microwave for a minute and wipe it down. Hairspray to take biro off a wall.
I now have a fairly extensive knowledge for cleaning and maintenance and have been known to clean out the washing machine when I was drunk, because I knew I would be asleep for many hours, so that time might as well have been used productively. The trick is soda crystals and also white vinegar. You’re welcome.
I have no truck with eco-cleaners (sorrynotsorry) because they just don’t work. I heart chemicals and elbow grease. Cif actifiz makes my heart sing. I love a good pair of Marigolds (although Waitrose do a better pair in light blue which is also more pleasing to my aesthetics).
Being in a position to keep my home and possessions in tip top condition makes me feel adult. Also, when my sister called to ask how to clean her non-removable sofa cushions.