Monthly Archives: July 2017

SALLY EMERSON SHINES AGAIN

I said recently that the novelist par excellence Sally Emerson is a master at her craft, hence she invariably receives good reviews for her books. Separation, the latest reissue from Quartet, originally published in 1992 to great acclaim is no exception to the rule.

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Reviewed by Val Hennessy in the Daily Mail, it echoes once again the validity of her reputation as a novelist of great skill. Here’s what Val wrote: ‘Ambitious career mum, new baby, attractive nanny, restless husband – phew! Trouble? However, Emerson’s accomplished thriller is mesmerizingly unpredictable with a truly sensational shock ending.

‘Amanda, husband and demanding babe live in an enviable London flat overlooking the Thames. They employ Sarah – the perfect day nanny – but little do they know, Sarah’s own beloved child is in the custody of her obnoxious husband, she’s legally forbidden to see her and her current address is a seedy hotel.

‘The nail-biting plot is skilfully interwoven with observations about motherhood and career conflict, the passionate bond between parents and offspring and the pain endured by the child of a broken marriage.’

As usual the story is gripping and is certainly worth a read. Why not buy a copy and tell your friends about it? A flutter at £10 is a bargain these days.

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AVOIDING THE LOTUS POSITION

Although many people speak of the benefits of yoga, I have neither been drawn to it nor was every inclined to practice it. But it appears that yoga may do more harm than good, research reveals. The risk of pain is said to be ten times higher than feared whilst the practice causes as many injuries as sports, scientists have warned. Celebrity fans of the exercise routine, said to boost physical and mental well-being, include Beyoncé, Super model Gisele Bundchen, and the Beckhams.

But a study finds it causes musculoskeletal pain – mostly in the arms – in more than 1 in 10 who practice it. It also worsens a fifth of existing injuries, found academics in Austrialia and the US. Professor Evangelos Pappas, of Sydney University, said: ‘Yoga may be a bit more dangerous than previously thought. Our study found the incidents of pain caused by Yoga in more than 10% per year – which is comparable to the rate of all sports injuries combined among the physically active population. However, people consider it to be a very safe activity. This injury rate is up to 10 times higher than has previously been reported.’

Yoga involves achieving a series of postures and movements designed to increase strength, flexibility and breathing. It is becoming a very popular complementary, alternative therapy for musculoskeletal disorders. Classes are now commonplace in leisure centres, hospitals, surgeries and even schools. But the study of more than 350 enthusiasts at yoga classes in the US found that it may be causing the same kind of pain it is trying to ease. Professor Papas said: ‘While yoga can be beneficial for musculoskeletal pain, like any form of exercise it can also result in musculoskeletal pain.’

The study also found yoga made existing injuries worse in 21% of cases – particularly in the arms. More than a third of injuries kept yoga fans out of classes for more than 3 months. Research found that most new pain was in the upper body, including the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand – due to postures like the so-called downward dog that puts weight on the upper limbs.

Professor Papas said: ‘It’s not all bad news, however, as 74% of participants reported that existing pain was improved by yoga, highlighting the complex relationship between musculoskeletal pain and yoga practice.’ He recommended that anyone thinking of doing yoga discuss other exercise options with their doctor or physiotherapist beforehand. Yoga teachers should also talk about the risk of injuries.

The study was carried with Mercy College in New York and published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. Some experts say regular yoga practice can help combat high blood pressure, heart disease, lower back pain, depression and stress.

The NHS says most forms of yoga are not strenuous enough to count towards the 150 minutes of moderate activity as set out by government guidelines. Nevertheless, I’m not one who favours yoga despite its possible benefits. I could be wrong, but it is far better to err rather than injure oneself in old age.

‘I am not in the giving vein today.’ Richard III

I was very pleased to read the other day that giving happiness is found to be much more self-satisfying than receiving it. Scientists have revealed in a recent study that to give really is tantamount to receiving, after discovering that ‘the warm glow’ of acting generously shows up in brain scans. Treating others also makes you happy in the long run, they said. In the first study to look at the general effects of generosity, neuroscientists promised fifty people the equivalent of £20 a week for a month, asking half to treat themselves with the money and half to spend it on someone else.

Those considering buying dinner or a present for someone else saw the ‘happiness’ part of their brain light up more than those who kept the money for themselves. Lead researcher Dr Soyoung Park, from the University of Lubeck in Germany, said: ‘We already knew that when people behaved generously they reported being more happy, but we did not know why. The results of this study show this is happening in the brain in a network linking the regions involved with generosity and happiness. This is in line with the evolutionary point of view that as social creatures, human society benefits when we help each other. This may be why the brain gives us this reward when we act selflessly.’ Her study, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that ‘generous behaviour’ is driven by the positive emotion (also termed ‘warm glow’) that it evokes.

I have often experienced what the study terms ‘warm glow’ when giving, especially to someone who impulsively shows signs of great joy upon receiving whatever the act entailed. I am truly chuffed to know that in general most of our genes are basically geared to generosity in preference to selfishness, although it is hard to see it today, when money seems to rule our behaviour, and not inclusive to the benefit of those in need.

Isabelle Huppert a Woman of Extraordinary Talent

French film star Isabelle Huppert, 64, has received a multitude of awards, including a Bafta for the Lacemaker and a Golden Globe for Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s controversial film about rape, for which she was also Oscar-nominated. She lives in Paris with her film director husband, Ronald Chammah, with whom she has three children.

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I interviewed her in 1987 to include in my book Women. Here what she told me, listed under the various headings that were used in my book.

The Early Influences:

I was the youngest of my family, so I guess my older sisters and my brother and parents influenced me, because I was raised as the baby, and that lingered for quite a long time. From my father, I learnt integrity and a sense of certain values and morality, and from my mother, will and energy and lots of positiveness. I don’t know if we were brought up to be independent. We were brought up to be curious of everything very early; we travelled, we went to foreign countries when we were very young, and I never felt any big pressure on me. I always felt that I was going to be free to do whatever I wanted.

Advantages and Disadvantages:

America is a very hard country. I can imagine how much you have to fight, and it’s probably difficult to fight so much and be feminine at the same time. Probably the French are better at this little game. In America, I think a lot of women become threatening for men, although I think both sides are rather traumatized. There is much loneliness in the United States, and it’s so competitive you have to make money. Here, in the Old World, there is still more sensuality, and, you know, we let it go. In America, you can’t let it go.

Motherhood:

I always wanted a baby, from the age of eighteen or twenty, but for several reasons I had to delay. I thought I was not ready: physically and psychologically unable to have a baby. But I always wanted one. And it’s very hard for me to figure out that it’s possible not to want one. From a moral point of view, I perfectly understand: it is not a necessity. But, for me, it was. It was an obsession.

Motherhood has changed me. It’s not that it changed, boom, in five seconds, right after the baby was born, but there was a mental change, and I can tell from how people view me now. It altered everything, my perception of life, my perception of being an actress. It’s not that it solved an issue, that’s not it. Before I had a child, I was very jealous of women who had children. Now that I have one, I am very jealous of all women who have another child; I am obsessed with having another child. There was an English film I loved, The Pumpkin Eater with Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch, directed by Jack Clayton, and made in 1964. It’s a wonderful picture, because it’s one of the only films I’ve seen dealing with that obsession. In the film, the woman keeps having children, one after another. She loves the children but it’s anguishing because it’s as if she constantly needs to be filled. The process of having a baby, certainly in my case, was the same process as doing a role. When you are an actress, you give life to a role; and when you are a woman, you give birth to a child. There are no words to describe how elated one feels when one gives birth. It’s the oldest thing in the world, yet it’s surreal. There are actually no words.

Relationships:

I don’t mind sometimes being an object woman; there is something passive in the way a woman has to be seductive and likeable, and if you are not like this, then you miss a lot. It is a pleasure for a man to see a woman like this, and it is a pleasure for a woman to behave like this. It doesn’t mean you have to be exploited. That’s something I feel very much, being an actress. Professionally, I behave like a big girl, but artistically I know that deep down between a director and an actress there must be that strange relationship of being passive, and being led by the director, and if you are not like this, there can’t be a relationship, you can’t be an actress. Being an actress depends on this.

In a recent interview withe The Times Magazine she says:

I feel French and I feel European. I think that when you feel both, the stronger and closer it makes you. England is already an island – Brexit closed the bridge for us. We were sad in France.

I totally share her feelings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Can it possibly be that Brexit is making people unaware of anything other but the nagging feeling that nothing else matters until a looming divorce takes place for better or for worse, and then life could possibly return to a lost normality, according to those who believe that grass is greener on the other side.

Our literary output has, as a result of this unholy obsession with Brexit, suffered as a consequence of a propaganda campaign from both sides of the equation whose motives alienate the other and make common sense a thing of the past.

The choice is restricted between those who take the High Road and abandon their humanitarian dogma for a more selfish view of the individual who seek to gain no matter what. And the rest of us, who believe in the destruction of an unequal society and are determined, come what may, to grab the privileges that have evaded them for so long as a result.

Where do we go from here is the topical question that baffles the learned amongst us, whose middle road is out of tune with a majority of people who view the world through spectacles that are tinted with brain-washing that has invaded our global societies, to cause mayhem and instability in every walk of life.

Look around you and you fear for the outcome, for the tentacles of dangerous change is now the leprosy that devours everything in its path and rumbles on unhindered, as if to say ‘I am here to get you!’

What a terrible thought for the day. But hold on. Perhaps this is a nightmare scenario that I am trying to evict and has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of the situation…

A MORE INNOCENT TIME?

The recent brouhaha about the sexual antics on various TV programmes reminded me of a time, not that long ago, when a suggestion that wives sucked their husbands’ toes was ridiculed as if we had faced the end of civilization.

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In 1987 Quartet published a book whose reception provoked a response that was never intended (though that ancient adage about no publicity is ever that bad does apply in the publishing trade). The hilarity arose partly because of its subject and partly because of the identity of its author, who happened to be married to David Stevens, then the press baron of Express Newspapers who had been created a life peer as Lord Stevens of Ludgate. Melissa Sadoff, as she called herself, possessed an inherited family title from central Europe and was, formally speaking, Melissa, Countess Andrassy. The book she had written was Woman as Chameleon: or How To Be the Ideal Woman. It was the very antithesis of feminist doctrine, aiming to teach women ways to keep their marriage exciting by pampering their man and acceding to his every wish and whim. Melissa was flamboyant in her views and Lord Stevens gave the impression of taking his wife’s attentions in his stride. She described the treatment she gave him in rather embarrassing detail, which opened up an opportunity for the critics to have a field-day in leg-pulling. ‘Grovel’ of Private Eye immediately dubbed Melissa ‘Countess Undressy’ and claimed to have suggested the book after hearing her speak about her husband’s ‘Ugandan preferences’. He was able to quote her verbatim for his own purposes.

‘There is nothing,’ she says, ‘that can be called perverse between husband and wife so long as it relates to the husband’s need and the wife’s willingness to do it.’ I have advised her to put it all on paper with a view to publication in book form. I tell her that my friend the seedy Lebanese parfumier Mr AttullahDisgusting could well be interested, as he is currently obsessed by all aspects of the Ugandan situation.
Two weeks later ‘Grovel’ followed through with the latest development:

As I suggested, the Countess Undressy . . . is to write a book of Ugandan hints, which will shortly be published by the swarthy Lebanese sex-fiend Naim Attullah-Disgusting. The ‘Countess’ will not mince words when she describes how she sees the duties of a wife. ‘Always kiss your husband’s body, starting from his toes,’ she writes. ‘After kissing his toes and sucking them, proceed to kiss every inch of his legs . . . ‘She should then perform the oral act. Many women feel an aversion towards this form of sex . . . Women who feel this way need to be asked what they would prefer – to have their husband go to a prostitute for such a service?’ (What’s the oral act? © Norman Fowler ’87) (That’s enough filth. Ed.)

The launch for Woman as Chameleon was held on 10 February, with ‘Londoner’s Diary’ of the Evening Standard citing the toe-kissing routine before asking ‘a pale, nervous and uncomfortable’ David Stevens, ‘Well, does she always?’ He had to confess that he hadn’t yet read the book, and didn’t intend to do so till he’d sifted through the reviews. ‘Otherwise I might be embarrassed.’

The nearest the party came to being risqué was when Jubby Ingrams’s (the daughter of Richard Ingrams, and who worked at Quartet) shoe was removed from her foot by an admirer with a view to kissing her from the toes upwards. Ms Sadoff rushed over to intervene. ‘No,’ she cried with a Transylvanian lilt. ‘It must be the other way round.’

Henry Porter in the Sunday Times ‘Notebook’ judged David Stevens to be ‘rather more reticent about his home life’ than was his wife.

I would estimate that this book . . . is going to cause considerable embarrassment to Mr Stevens . . . None the less, he has taken steps to purchase the serial rights if only to keep it out of the hands of the Daily Mail group, which naturally was keen to enhance his discomfort by publishing extracts like this: ‘Become your husband’s own prostitute . . . if your husband is in his study, workroom or garage in the wintertime put on a sexy slip, wrap yourself in a coat, slip on suspenders, black stockings and surprise him wherever he may be.’

Unfortunately the fun and games of the press diverted attention from the rest of the book, which threw many a light on relationships, friendships, motherhood and divorce, with sound philosophical reflections. Melissa was of Hungarian origin, a talented concert pianist and an accomplished hostess. She was perhaps a shade over the top in her enthusiasm, but being an eternal optimist her heart was in the right place. In retrospect, I believe she deserved more praise for the book than she ever received. Throughout the merciless lampooning from Private Eye and the barrage of snide sarcasm aimed by the rest of the press against the book, which inevitably earned the displeasure of the feminist lobby, she remained in control and outwardly unaffected by it all.

Her husband, despite the newspapers’ determination to embarrass him, was extremely supportive. He did not seem to be in any way phased by the teasing of friends over the rumpus caused by some of the book’s intimate passages. Sadly, only two years later, Melissa died when she got up in the middle of the night to eat a peach and choked on the stone. I was in Los Angeles at the time and was woken to hear the dreadful news. It left me feeling very emotional. I had grown to like Melissa immensely. Her colourful personality and boundless zest for life were her enduring strengths and ensured she could not be easily forgotten.

A LITTLE OF WHAT YOU FANCY DOES YOU GOOD…

I have always assumed that making love is good for your heart but apparently only if you are a man. As men rarely require much encouragement to indulge in a night of passion they can now insist that it is the purposes of health that drive them to do it on a regular basis. Scientists have revealed that enjoying regular sex could be the best remedy for avoiding killer heart disease – although somewhat unfairly, only for the male of the species. Making love several times a week can slash levels of homocysteine, a chemical in the blood that can trigger cardiac problems, a study found. But women do not get the same benefit because their sexual arousal is less dependent on a healthy blood flow, experts said.

Men who enjoy regular sex sessions often have better circulation and healthier blood vessels, which help prevent a build-up of homocysteine. Coronary heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer, with around 73, 000 a year dying from the condition. Doctors have long suspected that frequent sex can reduce the risk of heart attacks. A previous study found that intercourse twice a week halved a man’s chances of blocked arteries, compared to those indulging less than once a month. But until now there has been little scientific evidence to explain why a healthy sex life protects against illness.

The latest findings published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine are the first to reveal the link with reducing homocysteine levels. The chemical is a vital building block of proteins, and occurs naturally in the body, but excess levels, which can be caused by poor diet, are thought to damage blood vessels supplying the heart – raising the risk of a deadly clot forming. Previous studies have linked high readings with a 66% increased chance of dying from heart disease, as well as higher risks of stroke, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Researchers from the National Defence Medical Centre in Taiwan tracked more than 2000 men and women aged 20-59. Analysing blood samples, they compared homocysteine readings to the frequency with which volunteers had sex. The lowest traces were found in men claiming to have sex at least twice every week, while the highest readings were found in those restricted to less than once a month. But in women, there was no significant variation.

Researchers are now calling on doctors to advise male patients at risk of heart disease to have more sex. They wrote in their report: ‘A good quality sex life, frequent sex and libido are all related to health in the middle-aged and the elderly. Increased sexual frequency could have a protective effect on general health and quality of life – especially in men – so doctors should support patients’ sexual activity.’

Dr Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation said the study produced an interesting result but did not prove regular sex reduced homocysteine levels. He added: ‘A relationship does exist between sex and heart disease risk; Checking your blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as keeping active and not smoking, remains the best way to ensure a healthy future.’

I, however, am convinced that having regular sex for both men and women is essential for a healthy life, as long as it is backed by a regimented lifestyle devoid of addictive habits which harm the mechanism of the body in the long-term, among which excessive food intake is perhaps the most damaging.