Beauty Tips

The Joy Of Sea-Bathing

september beach writing

My friends think I’m mad. (Yes, I know, I know.) But I’m not, actually – or at least, in respect of my habit of sea-bathing. Because I happen to have the ocean at the end of my road, on the South Coast – a ten-minute saunter away. And between around the beginning of June and late October, unless the red flag’s actually flying, I’m in there. Not for hours – just five or ten minutes or so. Ideally at lunchtime, with a snack and a bottle of water – or maybe tea-time, depending on high tide.

Over the years I’ve lived here, I’ve become convinced of the benefits of swimming in the sea – and am only surprised that more people don’t follow our lead. (The other half of ‘our’ being my husband, the ‘equally mad’ Craig – or so friends would have it; sometimes it’s the only daylight time we get to spend together, between morning tea and dinner – despite the fact we work in adjoining offices.) Read More…

Embracing Change

torn lined paper

‘A change is as good as a rest,’ we’re often told. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that; nothing quite rivals a good lie-down (preferably for two weeks, right around now, with a stack of books to read). But over the years I’ve learned to embrace change in a way that I never would have expected when I was growing up. I loathed change. I wanted everything to be the same, always and forever. As disasters unfolded (my mother’s death, my father selling our beloved childhood home, other relationships unravelling), I realised: change was pretty unavoidable. But I can’t say I came to like it much, even then.

You might have heard me share my love of yoga on VH in the past – but I do think that it was when I seriously started to practice that I truly learned to go with the flow. One of my favourite yoga teachers ( has a wonderful saying, which I truly subscribe to: ‘Flexible spine, flexible mind.’ And I do honestly think that yoga enables me to deal with everything the universe throws at me, and adjust to the ever-changing landscape of my life.

Recently, I’ve had a couple of changes to deal with – one small, one more impactful. Someone who worked for one of my businesses landed her dream job – and was leaving pretty quickly, to take up her new role. I wouldn’t dream of trying to change someone’s mind when they make an announcement like that; by contrast, when someone’s decided to move on, they’re mentally half-way into the new job and I’ve learned to let them go as soon as possible. Nevertheless, it was going to leave a hole which everyone else was going to have to work that big harder to fill, short-term ­– including me.

We’d been all bobbing along quite happily, taking the status quo for granted – and suddenly, it was change-a-go-go. But after 24 hours wondering how to fill her job, I had a flash of realisation. We didn’t have to find someone to sit in an office in London – which in turn meant I had to trek up from the seaside for a few days a week, mostly to make that person feel motivated and ‘loved’. Before launching this venture, I’d always run my businesses close to home – and suddenly, the possibility opened up to do so again. (Infinitely my preferred option to spending a lot of time in bustling, polluted, overcrowded central London.) By staying calm – largely thanks to yoga and meditation, I’m 100% convinced – rather than run round like a headless chicken, in panic mode, I was able to see that this change really was a golden opportunity to do things better. And so often, I’ve discovered, that’s the way it turns out – if you embrace the change, rather than fight it tooth and nail every step of the way. When you become stressed and angst-y, it creates a type of mental paralysis – and you can’t see beyond the here and now.

The other change was pretty trivial, by comparison. It involved a tree. Or half a tree, laden with plums, that broke off when it got weighted down in a torrential rainstorm a couple of weeks ago. Trouble was, I’d built my much-loved shed under the shade of that tree – the only flat, shady place in my garden. Suddenly, there’s no shade. If I want to lie and read a book (are you sensing a theme, here?), then I now have to do it in sunshine. There’s something about losing a tree – or even half a tree – which, while it’s nowhere up there with losing a human being, is still incredibly upsetting. It makes a garden look like its two front teeth have been knocked out. (Old enough to remember the hurricane of 1989? There were countless homeowners and park-lovers who suffered from a kind of PTSD after all those trees blew down.)

I could’ve cried. I could’ve got hysterical. I could’ve raged. (Against the eternally unpredictable elements.) But instead, I decided once again to embrace the change. Look on it as the universe’s way of telling me to get a bit more vitamin D. To appreciate the way it opened up a view I hadn’t had before. To give that bit of the garden a little makeover (while also being grateful that the half-a-tree had missed my shed by millimetres).

What I’ve definitely learned about change, though, is that in order to be able to deal with it, I have to have in place a fundamental routine – my ‘wellbeing’ building blocks, if you like. Taking my supplements, every day (as advised by Shabir, of course!) Walking daily. Doing somewhere between 10-15 minutes of meditation every morning, while my Rare Tea Speedy Breakfast brews, in preparation for powering me through my morning. Yoga, at least every Friday (and more, if I can manage it). I also need to spend an hour a week in the aforementioned (and now sunlit) shed, writing letters and cards to friends (and feeling grateful, as I do so).

These are things that fuel my body, my soul and my mind – and knowing I will be doing them day after day, year after year, not only helps to ensure that I’m as healthy as possible, but sets me up for dealing with the other, way more unpredictable things in my life. Only twice in my life have I experienced a can’t-get-off-the-sofa depression (both after broken hearts) – but I’m convinced it was by establishing a routine every day that I could depend on that got me through it, when life felt deeply rocky and uncertain.

We never know what life will throw at us – and we’re often told that what matters isn’t what happens to us, but how we deal with it. I couldn’t agree more. But it was Stephen Hawking, no less, who once simply said: ‘Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.’

I’ll take that, Professor…

How To Stay Cool At Night

black ceiling fan

Somehow you don’t expect to return from a goddaughter’s wedding jaunt to Mallorca to find that the nights back in Blighty are even more sweltering than they were in Deia. Now, I’m not good in the heat. During the day, I cope by moving very s-l-o-w-l-y, glugging what feels like gallons of water – and if I’m too hot at night, I simply can’t sleep. Almost nothing I hate more than tossing and turning, glued to my sheets.

So: keeping cool on steamy summer nights has become something of a specialist subject for me, over the years. Air conditioning’s a) an environmental no-no, b) generally noisy (outside of the most five-star of hotels) and c) unsightly. (As anyone who’s ever looked up from a New York pavement can confirm.) Here’s what I’ve found works. Read More…

The Healing Powers Of Illness


Many years ago I read a book which made a deep impression on me. It was called The Healing Power of Illness, by a German doctor called Rüdiger Dahlke. Highly controversial, it suggested that when we get sick – or even have an accident – it’s not just random, but we’re in some way responsible for what’s happened to us. (The book, incidentally, can still be sourced via Amazon.)

This is an attitude which prevails in my house, where my beloved and very caring husband goes into complete lack-of-sympathy mode when anyone in the family is ill. You’re lucky if you get a glass of water out of him, so convinced is he that you’ve brought the cold/flu/norovirus on yourself. (Mostly by allowing your immune system to become depleted enough to fall victim to a virus or bacterium. The right diet, exercise and enough sleep should keep illness at bay, he believes – and the thing is, he’s almost certainly at least partly right.) Read More…

I Can See (My Computer) Clearly Now…


I’m going to let you in on a little secret. A secret which optometrists have apparently mostly been keeping to themselves. And a secret I’d never have been let in on if my friend Maggie hadn’t accidentally left her glasses on my desk recently.

The temptation was too great, of course. Having recently discovered that my sort-of-adopted-daughter and I can swap distance glasses at a pinch, I was curious to know how I’d get on with Maggie’s specs. So, seated at my computer, I put them on – and it was literally as if the scales had fallen from my eyes. The screen was crystal clear, easy-to-read – making me realise, in a flash, that until I slipped Maggie’s specs onto my nose, I’d actually been squinting at it in an attempt to get that sharp focus. ‘Ah, that’s what a screen is supposed to look like!’, my inner voice exclaimed. I speed-dialled my friend. ‘Yes, they’re my computer glasses,’ she explained. ‘Life-changing.’ Read More…

Jo’s Favourite UK Spa’s


If I wanted to, I could probably swan from one spa to another, doing ‘research’ as a beauty editor. Irony is, much as I’d love to do that, I have precious little time for treatments of any kind (even though my shoulders need unkinking and my jaw de-stressing as much as the next person). So it really matters to me that a spa visit has to be exceptional – because otherwise, I can think of a gazillion things I’d rather be doing with my time. And indeed, I’ve been known to leap off the couch mid-way through an ineffectual massage or facial, make my apologies, and skidaddle. Life’s too short to lie with my face in a be-towelled couch-hole, festering at the therapist’s not-much-more-than-a-tickle effleurage.

At the following destinations, however, I’ve experienced the not-so-minor-miracle (for me) of truly switching off. They’re all places I’d be happy to return to – and for me, there’s no greater accolade.

Gaia Spa at Boringdon Hall (Devon). Gaia Spa opened last summer and is as modern as it gets – but at the same time, it’s a real nod to nature. I’d call the whole vibe ‘eco-glam’ – not a wind chime in sight. Instead, gorgeous fabrics, stunning artworks and sculpture, properly spa-like soothing sounds – and who isn’t going to fall in love with a spa that serves éclairs in its Spatisserie…? Everything is beautiful – not least the treatments themselves. Alongside ESPA treatments but also an entire programme of massages, facials etc. using Gaia Spa‘s own range of very impressive products. I enjoyed – truly enjoyed – the Gaia Spa Holistic Spa Ritual, which blends Balinese and Lomi Lomi techniques (long, smooth movements to release tension, as deep or as light as suits you). The body is exfoliated, followed by a not-too-messy application of re-mineralising Gaia mud, showered off before a choice of Gaia Spa oil blends – I went for Uplifting – is massaged into skin for what feels, blissfully, like ages. (This is a two-hour ritual.) There’s a facial as a finale but to be honest, I can’t remember a thing about that because by now I was away with the fairies who no doubt occupy nearby Dartmoor. There are lots of facilities and restful areas to take advantage of after a treatment – the salt crystal room, chill-out area around the pool (you can swim outside or in), etc. I took the cake option.
Gaia Spa at Boringdon Hall/01752-344455

Bodysgallen Hall (Wales). This isn’t on the way to anywhere – unless you’re touring Snowdonia or en route Holyhead for the ferry to Ireland. But it’s worth a pilgrimage. The multi-award-winning Spa itself is tucked away a couple of hundred yards’ walk from the historic National Trust hotel, in a low-built stone conversion. A crackling log fire flanked by inviting chairs greeted me on a winter’s day – and the welcome is equally warm. The spa changing room leads onto a long indoor heated swimming pool, where it’s also possible to lounge between treatments, though I didn’t have time to do much more than slip on a robe and head for a massage, alas. Darphin is the main brand featured on the treatment menu (along with Jessica manicures/pedicures, XEN-Tan and CACI if your face is in need of a bit of gravity-defiance). I often find spa rituals over-fussy when what we really want is someone’s fingers and thumbs working on ‘computer knots’, so I opted for a Deep Rebalancing Massage (which is a very reasonable £60). Mine was a true, gifted therapist rather than a beautician who’s turning her hand to occasional massages (which is the case in too many spas to mention). The hour in the treatment room, with its very comfortable bed, went all-too-quickly.
Bodysgallen Hall, The Royal Welsh Way, Llandudno, North Wales, LL30 1RS/01492-584466

Uniquely Organic EcoSpa (Brighton). Organic spas are few and far between, but even if you’re not a card-carrying member of the Green party, this Hove-based spa is a wonderful place to chill. They stock only organic ranges: Balm Balm, Pinks Boutique and Living Nature feature. Furniture is Fairtrade, and eco-paints have been used in the decor. The staff are not only extremely competent, technically, but they really do tune into the treatment, rather than just going through the motions; founder Kirsty Taylor graduated with a BSc in cosmetic science but went down the natural beauty route after writing her final dissertation on organic cosmetics, and finding her passion in life. The particular treatment that I wallowed in was the fab Pinks Boutique Eco-Chic Facial, £60 for one hour, which incorporates this all-organic range’s cleanser, gentle exfoliator and and facial oil in a really hands-on treatment that totally zaps facial tension, but also gets right into those knotty bits in the shoulders. This is truly guilt-free pampering, and writing this has reminded me to check out the menu again, head to Brighton – just an hour along the coast from my house – and check in for the Muladara (Root Chakra) Ayurvedic treatment, designed to promote a sense of stillness, which I’d put on my spa wishlist.
Uniquely Organic EcoSpa, 40 Church Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 2FN/01273-726973

Aromatherapy Associates Boutique & Treatment Rooms. I’ve said it before – and I’ll almost certainly say it again. (And again.) When it comes to mood-shifting, no oils have the power of Aromatherapy Associates to lift me up or waft me off to the land of Nod. (Fact: my No. 1 desert island must-have is Deep Relax Bath & Shower Oil.) Their treatments, of course, are widely available – but my favourite AA ‘branch’ is the flagship store and treatment destination in Knightsbridge. Upstairs, you’ll find the whole range of oils, skincare and bodycare, beautifully showcased. You can experience mini-treatments, or learn by smelling the essential oils in their ‘raw’ form. But downstairs, heaven truly beckons: boutique-hotel-style treatment rooms where you can enjoy facials or body treatments. My favourite is quite simple: a 90-minute City Stress Buster, which does just what it says on the tin (or rather, glass bottle), promising help with disturbed sleep and exhaustion. Therapists are world-class. And at this stage in my life, I’d rather pay a little extra and be assured of that.
Aromatherapy Associates Boutique & Treatment Rooms, 5 Montpelier Street, London SW7 1EZ/020-7838 1117

Margaret Dabbs Sole Spa at SpaceNK. This is one treatment that I do carve time out of my diary for once every four weeks or so, to have hooves shaved, nails buffed, calves massaged – and the finishing touch: a glossy, longlasting polish. (Although that’s booked separately: the podiatrists don’t varnish.) And the more comfy my feet are, the further I walk. Therefore: a medi-pedi isn’t an indulgence, it’s a health necessity. There’s a lovely new setting in which to enjoy these treatments – and the full range of Margaret Dabbs podiatry services, which also include lasering, orthotics and all the really serious foot stuff, tucked away at the back of the vast SpaceNK Apothecary on Westbourne Grove. All the podiatrists are fantastic at what they do – and treatment products came from Margaret’s fab, Beauty Bible Award-winning range which you can of course find on VH. I honestly can’t recommend too highly that if medical pedicures aren’t on your maintenance list, you experience one for yourself. I’d much rather spend money on my actual feet than on endless pairs of new shoes. I’ve said it before, we will definitely say it again: happy feet make a happy woman – which makes all of Margaret Dabbs‘s salons is positive temples to joy.
Margaret Dabbs Notting Hill 127-131 Westbourne Grove, W2 4UP/020-7486 0620 to book (NB this covers all the spas, so be sure to specify New Cavendish Street, Liberty or Westbourne Grove)