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Health and Beauty: Who Do You See in the Mirror?

Ever yearned for a new you after the ravages of a long winter? Screw up your courage, as Philippa Toomey did, and surrender to those who have ways of making you look and feel in the pink.

Who likes January and February? Finding myself, like Edward Lear’s Aged Uncle Arly, ‘sometimes silent, sometimes yelling’, I headed down the A3 in filthy driving weather to Liphook and Forest Mere in Hampshire for four days of rest, relaxation, and a light diet.

Up the long drive to an elegant country house, shortly before 3pm on a Wednesday, I arrived for my consultation which would govern the time until Sunday lunch. Breakfast was in bed, followed by a couple of treatments – 8 am for a massage, a startling time of day in my life, followed by a steam bath. One sits and sweats with one’s head sticking out in the equivalent of a personal kettle – there is a handle inside for those with claustrophobia, and also someone on hand with a timer. Try not to remember the scene in Goldfinger.

I was accommodated in a chalet (it must be lovely in summer), only a five-yard dash with an umbrella to the main building, in which all the treatments take place; the sauna, the hydrotherapy, the massage and the dining-room.

Health farms have given up the grim restrictions that people used to find such fun breaking. Food is delicious, with salads at lunch, then cooked food in the evening, or yoghurt, honey, wheat germ and fruit in the light diet room. No alcohol is allowed, no coffee, or tea at teatime, and no cigarettes, though human frailty is allowed for in a few smoking areas.

Every day there are classes: ‘I don’t mind if you fall asleep,’ said the instructor at the relaxation class. Several did. The Yoga class I found incredibly difficult – I was, as the masseuse pointed out, very, very stiff indeed, and fell over several times. Exercise I should have taken (there are some alarming machines in the gym); swimming I could have done inside or outside.

You can exercise, you can jog. In the evenings you can watch a video, or retire to your TV screen. In the intervals, I had a facial and a pedicure – beauty treatments and hair dressing are extra. After four days I felt very much refreshed and relaxed and had lost 2 1/2lbs, though pining for bright lights and city streets. Like the evacuees from wartime London, I don’t really like all that silence.

How about repairing the facade? As a house needs repainting every now and then, so does the face we bravely put on for the outside world every day. ‘I’m going to curl your eyelashes. ‘said Stephen Glass, in warning as he advanced with a nasty-looking little instrument. Up on the third floor in his light white salon, confronting a cruel glass, with March sunlight streaming in, eyebrows were plucked, eyelashes curled, the face and neck cleaned, and treated with a number of delicious smelling preparations.

Eucalyptus tingled, a little phial was wonderfully cool. When Stephen Glass worked for Miss Elizabeth Arden in New York (former employees still call her Miss Arden), he often wanted to use other brands of cosmetics. He is now free to use what he thinks will suit an individual face, and has invented Light Fantastic, a priming base which is an astonishing pale lilac color, but which lightens the face, removes dark shadows, and is spread over with a little damp sponge.

It doesn’t suit all complexions, but it worked with me. He offers good and sensible advice, and his firm, Face Facts, has been going for 11 years. The middle-aged have to work hard to look good, and the result, at the end of my session, was quite spectacular. I looked like me, but I was a work of art. The following day, my attempts to copy the artist resulted in a forgery. But for a special occasion like an appearance on television, an invitation to the wedding of a former love or a spirit raiser and object lesson, I recommended it.

For some years I have been to Joan Price’s Face Place in Connaught Street, W2, for a series of facials and neck and shoulders massages, lasting an hour in a dark little womb in the basement. Relaxing it is, even during a lunch hour. Twice I have had a make-up lesson – useful and helpful, and a reminder that make up changes, and new things can look good. They sell the whole range of the cosmetics they use (Stephen Glass does not) and it’s convenient that they are open two evenings a week.

A very large range of cosmetics is available from the newly refurbished Dickins and Jones, which has widened and extended the area where Norman Clare, who has just retired, used to reign. It looks beautiful, and there are a couple of small treatment rooms on the ground floor where people can be made up out of the full public glare.

Some of the more exclusive ranges are stocked (Lazlo, for example, is like a club – you either join or forget the whole thing) and they have consultants trained by each cosmetic house in the use of their beauty products. Not everything is for the fair-skinned English complexion. There are two cosmetic houses, Fashion Fair and Flori Roberts, for black skin, and Maya, for the Arab or Asian complexion. New developments in the selling of perfume (80 per cent of all perfume sales are in November) will try to persuade the Englishwoman that she can’t exist without it, all year round.

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