By Tilly Smith Dix

So, I thought I’d try and find the lighter side of this trying time for us all, which is proving worse for so many folks who are losing their jobs, businesses, homes – and partners. Many challenges still await us during and post-Coronavirus…

I remember my parents telling stories about the Depression after WWII – it was tough on everyone. However, my always optimistic mum said it also taught people to become entrepreneurial and resourceful. So, she got stuck into the garden and got my siblings involved in planting vegetables, breeding chickens and selling eggs.

“Live off the land,” she said and sell the surplus. In many instances, folks could not afford to buy my mother’s home-grown veggies, so, she would happily barter. “I give you potatoes, beans and carrots, you give me fruit off your trees and we are square,” she would say. These are the stories I grew up with as by the time I came into this world, people were getting over the post-war hardships as the Fifties became boom-time.

Word got around that on a Friday, when those who ‘had’ were at work, Mum would simply leave some of her surplus vegetables, fruit and old clothes on a table on the sidewalk for anyone in need to walk by and help themselves to what they needed.

Apparently, this was of enormous help to people who were still struggling as well as domestic workers who were working for minimum wage, to make ends meet. This resulted in some people of all races offering to assist with housework or gardening without asking payment to repay my mother for her kindness.

My point? We have much to learn during these trying times. By starting with kindness and being more understanding of each other’s individual struggles, we create a state of grace. Not always easy as humans are flawed. But, it’s a great place to start with small kindnesses and eventually, it simply becomes natural to be empathetic.

Just imagine how wonderful the world would be when we get to go back to normal life again. For many, things will NEVER be the same as they would have lost too much in this travesty of a pandemic. However, for those of us in a better position to help others, it would certainly clean our karma bus to be more mindful of others. Even when we wear a mask, people can see when we are smiling – it’s in our eyes. A good start…

Serendipity abounds

During this difficult time, I find myself being more grateful for things we tend to take for granted. A phone call from someone simply wanting to know if you are okay. A single rose left in a little bottle of water at the front door. A neighbour calling to say they are going to the shops, do you need anything…

Often, these serendipitous events will manifest when we are most in need of kindness. I’m not one for feeling sorry for myself as pity parties are for others who are more needy. However, just when I reached a low ebb, the phone started ringing and it never stopped. Firstly, my nephew calls from New Zealand, he says he heard my late mom, his Ouma Antjie, telling him to call me. He adored her.

A few hours later, another beloved nephew calls, this time from South Africa, just to say ‘hello, Aunty, I miss you.’ As I got to bed, feeling much uplifted having heard from these special boys, I get a call from an elderly friend, also from abroad, just to tell me she was remembering the great travels we enjoyed together in the South African Cape Winelands and thought she needed to hear my voice. I believe I woke up still smiling this morning, having gone to sleep with an enormous, grateful grin on my face…

Binge fest

So, then there is the binging on movies and series on our flatscreens or laptops, whichever is our poison. I have discovered folks who always professed to hate television now succumbing to the guilty pleasures of the small screen. About time, I say, escape therapy!

As most of the news is devastating and depressing, I now find myself indulging in happy endings. Yes, I know, that sounds like a special service at a massage parlour. Get your mind out the gutter, I’m talking about emotional happy!

Some years ago, I got hooked on Brothers & Sisters. A successful wine-merchant family experiences the ups and downs of normal folks. Set in California, the Walker family is real and easy to identify with. This is why it is compelling to watch, living life vicariously through their trials and highs in Pasadena. 

The stellar cast includes the always believable and adorable Sally Field as the matriarch, Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffith (love her), Matthew Rhys (the start of his now brilliant career, I’d say), Emily VanCamp, and, my personal favourite, Rob Lowe. Yep, my guilty pleasure, still think he is delish…bite me! Get hooked on 7Plus.

Another series I’ve enjoyed is Mirage in the Desert on SBS. The location of Abu Dhabi is spectacular, the storyline action-packed and the cast, quite frankly, brilliant. The protagonist, Claire (Marie-Josee Croze), personifies grace, smarts, real-life beauty (not styled into a space doll), and strength. However, she sure is pushed to the limits. Should she trust Gabriel (Clive Standen), even though they have a history? Won’t spoil it for you but I honestly cannot wait for the next season.

A movie that touched my heart was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The leading character, an author, talks about meeting people whom one feels you knew long ago, although you’ve only just met. That feeling of belonging with such people, is what makes our souls soar. Such people, she says, are your true family. I so get that.

Directed by Mike Newell, with a stellar cast, including Lily James, Matthew Goode, Katherine Parkinson (of Doc Martin-series), Michael Huisman, Penelope Wilton and the always superb Sir Tom Courtenay, this gem is currently available on 7Plus too.

Music of the heart

Ah, and then there is music. Still the best mood-enhancer for me. Someone recently posted a YouTube link of Procol Harum live in Denmark and wow, did that bring back beautiful memories and make my day – the more recent rendition seems even more poignant:

Feeling better already?

In my skin

I was lucky to be blessed with parents with beautiful skins. My gracious mom, who referred to herself as a plain Jane because she did not wear much makeup, was anything but plain. Blessed with a glowingly healthy skin, big baby blues and rosy cheeks, she got away with a little bit of face powder and a rosy-pink lipstick. She cleaned her face with Ponds and used Nivea as a day, night and eye-cream. Even in death at the age of 83 her skin looked young and translucent. Sounds a tad macabre but I kissed her goodbye on her deathbed and it just felt right. She looked like an angel, which she was, mostly.

My handsome father could have been described as a babe-magnet as younger women made fools of themselves over him. He was old-school charming, handsome, and had impeccable taste. His skin reflected the Huguenot blood in his veins as he turned a gorgeous shade of olive in summer, when he loved spending time with his prize roses in the garden, right up to his final months on this earth, when aged almost ninety.

His skin was so smooth, people never believed his age. Not without a touch of vanity, Dad took great delight in whipping out his passport when people expressed doubt about his age!

So, I chose my parents well, especially in the skin department. However, I have a strict skin regime, even in my twenties when I stupidly, like most of my compatriots, spent hours baking in the sun, swathed in olive- and baby-oil to turn berry brown. I never went to bed without cleansing, toning and feeding my skin, even after a late night.

When that shiny, combination/normal skin started turning a tad drier because of age, I started a weekly deep-cleansing, uber-feeding skin regime which has resulted in a healthy skin, I’d say.

I’ve never thought of sharing my skincare secrets with others, unless asked but a kind Instagram follower of my Sixty_is_the_new_40 page suggested I shared my skin and dietary routines as she felt other women could benefit. 

Well, it’s not complicated, so, here are a few tips.

I start my day with a bowl of fruit and yoghurt, followed by a frothy latte. I take vitamins, which include vitamin A, B, C, D and E. I prefer a good lunch as my main meal of the day, I go slow on carbohydrates as I’m definitely more of a protein person. When I eat carbs, I tend to not mix them with protein.

I recently developed an allergy to chocolate and nuts, yes, that is so sad, but I love cheese, so, I’m good with that. I also enjoy ice cream, usually once a week, even in winter. Yep, weird. Most evenings I have chicken-liver pate and goats-milk cheese with water crackers or brown rice crackers – and, often, accompanied by a glass of bubbles. The latter is for medicinal purposes, it helps me sleep, right?

Once a week my skin deep-cleanse comprises a gentle facial wash, mostly Lancome, followed by a refined Clarins exfoliation scrub, followed by a nourishing overnight mask, my current favourite is the Lancome Hydra Zen Masque.

Eye-cream is my addiction, day and night, whilst a good moisturiser by day, preferably with a lifting agent, and a nourishing night cream, are my staple creams. I am honestly seeing a difference in my skin with the Clarins Lift-Affine Visage Serum Facial Lift for day, and when I’m feeling a little tired and need to add some extra oomph, especially when stressed or tired, Clarins Beauty Flash Balm brightens and tightens miraculously within minutes.

I do get dark circles under my eyes when tired or stressed and was encouraged by a good friend to try a little gizmo that stimulates the skin cells through vibration, thereby reducing those dark circles – and puffiness.

I then discovered the little magic wand also reduces wrinkles if used regularly anywhere else on the face and neck, so, it now gets a good workout several times a week, especially around the areas prone to facial lines, such as laughter lines around the eyes, frown lines, stress lines around the mouth, and, never to be ignored, the soft bits of the jawline – commonly known as jowls, or, as so brilliantly satirised in the Ali McBeal series, the wattle! I believe it’s called the dewlap on animals? I’m working on mine and honestly see a difference already. That dewlap is sweet on cows but scary on me…

An electronic magic skin wand and some help from Clarins.

Reminiscing about travel

With travel off the charts for now, I find going through my photographs and stories of past travels deeply gratifying. Experiencing the journey all over again, remembering incidents that sparked enormous joy, and even little pleasures, are proving superb therapy right now.

Some of my fondest memories comprise visiting Prague, the magical capital of Bohemia, as it was known during the time of the great composers such as Beethoven. 

Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge are simply spectacular. I bought two delightful watercolour paintings from an artist practising his craft outside the little house where Kafka worked all those years ago.

The Bond-type funicular at the Movenpick.
The magic of Prague from my hotel room.

I recall staying at The Movenpick Hotel, where I was upgraded to an executive room, with views of the city and the Vltava River, the longest river in the Czech Republic. I felt as if I was in a Bond movie when transported from the Reception of the hotel situated in the Old City in a cliffside funicular travelling up, then sideways, then up again to the top of the cliff, where the hospitality facilities were located, offering spectacular vistas of the city beyond.

I was hugely impressed with the executive service I received as a tourist-class traveller. The day prior to my departure, the hotel manager arranged for a taxi to collect me at 5,30am to catch my train to Salzburg, Austria. I love train journeys throughout Europe. The taxi-driver went beyond the call of duty. 

As all the directions at the station were in Czech, he took it upon himself to carry my luggage to platform 5, which was quite a distance from the drop-off point, with several flights of stairs en route! I’d still be dragging my suitcase up those stairs had it not been for this sweet man. When I reached for my purse to offer him compensation for his additional service, he stopped me, raising his hand, and said, “Madam, you are a beautiful lady and it was my pleasure to assist you. Send your friends to Prague.” That’s how smart tourism works. I’d love to return – with all my mates.

Another vivid memory of my travels was a business trip to London, then Paris, after which I was to hire a car, solo, to traverse Provence, and wind my way to Nice for a much-deserved holiday. As I’d always travelled in the European winter, which I love, this was a spring break with some press meetings in the major cities.

When my friend Lisa heard about my plans, she expressed her desire to travel with me. Her husband, Bruce, who was my long-time friend, casually asked what my budget was for my impending trip. Always with an eye on getting value for money, he seemed impressed when I told him. After another glass of wine, and getting further clarity on my travel itinerary, he looked at his beautiful wife and said, “Lisa, would you like to go with Tilly? I’ll take care of the girls and school runs if you go.” They had two young daughters.

Well, Lisa and I looked at him as if we’d just seen God. I wiped a tear from my eye and Lisa just wept with joy! At the time, before booking purely online, I used the services of a savvy travel agent, who had served me well, taking care of even the smallest details, saving me time, as I was pretty busy working in my agency.

This fabulous travel whizz, Rozanna, called me the following day, which was a Monday, and she was hysterical with laughter. She announced my friend Lisa had been to see her and was so excited about travelling with me, she introduced herself as my good friend and hugged everyone in the travel agency, promising to bring champagne for all of them next time she popped in. And she did!

London, as always, was enormous fun and, although we may have only had one day of sunshine in the 3 days we spent there, spring was in the air. We walked. We shopped. We met with old friends for lunch. We drank Spanish wine. We hardly stopped laughing. We drank French champagne. We laughed more. We also enjoyed the most delicious seafood pasta at one of my favourite little Italian restaurants on The Strand and bought French berets in Covent Garden.

A favourite London landmark.

I had never driven in Europe before. As I usually travelled alone, I preferred trains and planes. This time, we agreed I’d be the driver and Lisa would be the navigator as she was great at that. I was the better driver. Nervous about driving in France, after several days of meetings, shopping at Galerie Lafayette, walking and simply soaking up the magnificent flavours and scents of Paris, we collected our little rental car at Gare de Lyon after a delicious cruise and lunch on the Vedettes du Pont Neuf. Ah, the Seine…

That last evening in Paris was as Parisienne as they come. We parked out little car outside our hotel located near Le Marais, with its nose pointing in the direction we’d be travelling the next day. We walked to Montmartre, gazed at the Sacre-Coeur in the twilight, then took a slow walk back to our hotel, stopping for some sustenance along the way. First, a coffee at a tiny patisserie, then, an orange crepe and a glass of champagne at another little café.

The historical dome of Galeries Lafayette

Nervous about traffic and driving on the right-hand side of the road, we decided to make an early departure to miss the Saturday crowds – those circles are daunting when everyone is going in the same direction and you are in the wrong lane! Gulp. We made it! Only once did we travel around the same circle twice to get onto our route and we were away!

Our first stop was Lyon, where we had booked to spend a day and night before travelling to Avignon. Our luck was a tad rotten as there was an attempted bank heist near the hotel where we were supposed to stay and all the roads leading there were cordoned off with police!

It was mayhem and after about two hours of driving around the city, which did offer some spectacular insight and vistas of this city where the Rhone and the Saone Rivers meet, to finally flow into the Mediterranean Sea as one.

Avignon, Palace of the Popes.

The architecture is magnificent, and it is no surprise the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but on that Saturday, when there also happened to be a student celebration of some kind, we were happy to be informed our hotel would provide a full refund in view of this inconvenient drama. The helpful receptionist also informed me when I called her on my cell phone (before smartphones), she would call ahead to our little hotel in Avignon to advise them to expect us a day earlier. Within minutes she called me to confirm all was arranged. What service! I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the hotel, but I remember sending a glowing email report on the sterling service provided later.

An hour outside the city, we pulled into a service station, topped up our fuel, and decided to have a late lunch as we were starving and thirsty. As we sat down for our meal with a view of the road, a little Renault pulled over on the other side of the highway, smoke pouring out of the hood. The driver got out and dashed across the road, just as the car burst into flames! Now there’s something you don’t see every day, unless you are making an action movie. Someone with a portable fire-extinguisher ran across the road, managed to put the flames out and returned to the service station like a champion. Everyone cheered, he took a bow like a star.

Still bug-eyed, we decided to make tracks to get to Avignon before dark. Ah, now there is a city and region that stole our hearts. I promise to get into more detail on the next blog – hope you like it so far…

Looking good is feeling good

Spending so much time in our homes leads to tardy dressing, right? Glamming up? Gosh, no fashion police around, bugger…

Honestly, I often don’t wear makeup and settle for comfy casual clothes as I’ve discovered the sloppy comfort of knitted track pants and long-sleeved T-shirts covered by big jumpers. Never thought I’d get to this. And big socks.

However, on days I don’t feel too chipper, I find it great therapy to spend time on my makeup, hair and outfit for the day, even if I’m just at home. It creates a sense of occasion, even when I’m not leaving the house on that day.

Those precious few weeks in which we could go out to restaurants again were confusing, as one felt you needed to be uber-cautious, yet, going out for a socially distanced meal and overlooking the vineyards of the Yarra Valley with its verdant hills, proved balm for the soul.

I got to enjoy a scrumptious lunch at Meletos in Coldstream, mere minutes from my home, where I felt like an exuberant puppy, wagging its tail and literally jumping up and down with excitement. I had to take serious control of me to behave gracefully and graciously. Dining on delicious scallops, followed by a juicy steak and washed down with delicious Domain Chandon bubbles proved a treat.

Meletos in the Yarra Valley.

What did I wear on a cold, rainy winters day? Jeans, boots, a woollen jumper and one of my favourite coats. A beret and scarf completed the look and I felt like the queen of the valley. I was OUT!

Finding my vintage style, and shopping my wardrobe during a long, wet, cold, beautiful winter.

Good friends are a gift and it’s in times like these we need them more than ever, and they need us. So, even though for now we can’t be sociable and meet for those lunches and dinners we so took for granted, we can do facetime, dress up, drink a glass of our favourite elixir and munch on something delicious as if we are sharing a table, breaking bread, and laughing. Almost perfect.

Stay positive, take care and don’t lose hope – we can do this…cheers to the good life…

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