Under My Skin… AHAVA (Love)


I just re-counted out 58 Israeli Shekels, the amount of cash I have left after my trip to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at the end of April. This is my incentive to go back to Israel and pay for a tuna salad at LalaLand on Gordon Beach in Tel Aviv. A salad is 58 IS (about £14.50!). But why the enthusiasm, you might ask? It is just a war zone? Or really dangerous? These comments couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I feel safer in Israel than anywhere else in the world. Go figure.

My first trip to Israel was to Eilat when I was a wee nipper. The Eilat sun got the better of me and I looked like a Puffa Fish within 24 hours. I had burnt three layers of skin and spent the next two days covered in Israeli yogurt. It took years for the skin on my face to tan properly again. Israel had literally “got under my skin”. Being obsessed with the sea and fish in general, I was mesmerised by the colour of the Red Sea; the reflection of the copper-laden red desert rock; the jewel-like fish and the ethereal beauty of the Negev Desert. And the yogurt was great – all flavours, from memory.

I can’t remember if I visited Israel during my early teens but I certainly do remember when I rocked up to Kibbutz Kalia, aged 19, full of heartbreak (my own doing, in the main), wearing my uniform of cut off jean shorts and a severe case of ‘North London attitude’. Kalia is situated by The Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth and right next to The Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. I loved Kalia. So much so, I told my late mother I wanted to make Aliyah (move to Israel) and go into the Israeli Army. She blatantly said “no”. That was June… bless her. But I really wanted to do the Army and not just because the men were beautiful (LOL). I was genuinely drawn… maybe I was a Mossad agent in the making.

Kalia made sense to me. Living within a sensibly organised community where you ate well and lived extremely well worked for me. Work hard, play hard – amidst the backdrop of some of the healthiest air on the planet, due to the mineral-rich environment. I had learnt to speak and write Hebrew when I learnt English as a child so blending into an Israeli Kibbutz environment was an extension of my childhood. There was a lot of AHAVA (love) going on back in 1989, by the shores of the Dead Sea…

I went back to Israel numerous times after I left University in 1993: I did a sponsored ‘Walk for Water’ around the Judean Hills in 50 degrees of heat, for charity – breath taking but tough for a non-morning person to get up at 5am; I went back to Kalia on the bus from Jerusalem and travelled the length and breadth of the country (and also Egypt), replenishing my pot of ‘AHAVA’, both literally and metaphorically (AHAVA is a very good natural, internationally known beauty house). And each time I visit(ed), Israel has dug deeper into my layers of skin (no yogurt required, of late) and into my ‘Nefesh’ (Soul).

Tel Aviv, where I have spent most of my last four trips, is a powerhouse for technology (Google, Facebook and Apple have HQ’s there). As well as Tel Aviv being the new vegan capital of the world, it is a vibrant and surprising 24-hour fitness destination and the home of inclusive egalitarianism. Tel Aviv is also the new home of Gay Pride and the men and women are ridiculously beautiful, without the need for artificial enhancement or extensions of any kind. You might even see a Lady Boy or two if you are lucky!

Israeli’s take nothing for granted – they live life to the full. They value every breath as they are fully aware of some of the horrors of life through war and hatred. And whilst many people I know criticize Israel in relation to Gaza, I would urge you all to err on the side of caution. The situation is far more ‘opaque’ than you might imagine and not as easily simplified as oppression or genocide. Unless you have lived in Israel or been to Israel, be open to more than media images. But back to AHAVA.

This most recent trip was a right of passage for me. I discovered family I never knew existed; I honoured a relative who perished in The Holocaust; I connected with friends from both Junior and Senior School as well as from my time on Kibbutz Kalia; I couldn’t eat meat – my body rejected it and I ate cashew nut cream cheese that literally blew my ankle socks off. I cried. I laughed. I felt. I exhaled. I went to a vegan restaurant that is one of the best dining experiences of my life, I ate at my beloved LalaLand on Gordon Beach and I let the icing-sugar-like Tel Aviv sand fall through my toes. I felt like I was home. I wore my Star of David with pride – something I never normally do in London as I was attacked wearing it many years ago. I was bursting with ‘AHAVA’ and my ‘Nefesh’ was full.

Tel Aviv is a force to be reckoned with, for everyone. The City’s energy cannot be ignored – this is not about race, creed or religion, simply about energy. It rocks 24 hours a day: from the top of Tel Aviv Marina to the bottom of Jaffa Port, it is a small City with an enormous personality that will not be ignored. Wherever you go, people talk to you within nano seconds. Now aged 47, I believe that Israel, and particularly Tel Aviv, has penetrated all seven layers of my skin. Right to the bone. I cried when I left… people must have thought I was leaving behind a long-lost lover. I felt like I was. As I posted on Facebook, “… if Tel Aviv was a man, I would marry him tomorrow”. Tel Aviv replenishes my Soul (Nefesh) with overflowing AHAVA (Love). Never goodbye, always ‘Lehitraot’. 58 Shekels are ready and waiting for that salad at LalaLand…      

The Mini Hotel Inspector


When I was a little girl I would drag my mother into hotels and particularly their WC’s to see what they were like.  I don’t think my quirk was a toilet fetish (sorry, pervs) but I linked the status of the loo to the establishment overall.  Even now I do the same.  If the bog ain’t up to scratch, quite frankly, the hotel or restaurant can ‘bog off’.

I remember pulling my mother into the toilet of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (aged 11 or so) and it got the thumbs up because of the red plush carpet on the wall.  Over the years I have stayed in hundreds of hotels.  As a former celebrity and travel PR, much of my life was lived out of a suitcase and as a person who genuinely loves to travel (and who also is a complete perfectionist) my quest continues to this day.

I would actually love to own a boutique hotel.  I adore hotels and the associations therein.  For me, indulgence is a fluffy bathrobe, all my senses overwhelmed, decent room service, surrounded by magazines, books, newspapers and crap TV.  All on a massive comfy bed (with a delectable beau perhaps!).  My hotel would be unforgettable though.  One with a difference and hopefully I wouldn’t make the same mistakes made by others.  If you asked me what makes a great hotel or indeed restaurant, the most important factor is attention to detail.  ‘The devil’s in the detail’ is one of my favourite expressions and whilst you may not care if you have designer toiletries when you get in from work and just want to crash, you DO care and notice if the mattress is comfortable and the linen is decent.  I would actually offer both.

So in light of the above, the Premier Inn strategy works as a functional and reliable source of somewhere to stay for work or pleasure, whilst hopefully keeping costs down.  Rooms are clean, beds are decent and bathrooms are usually a reasonable size.  But a functional hotel doesn’t give you an ‘experience’.  For me, a hotel is as much about the fantasy that accompanies that stay, whether it be of a lustful or restful nature.  It gets my pulse racing, regardless.

I have stayed at five and six star hotels over the years and very few have impressed me.  The ‘famed’ Burj in Dubai couldn’t accommodate my dietary requirements when I went for tea.  What that means in real terms is that they couldn’t be bothered.  Which is where this piece started.  I would never go back.  Ditto Dubai as a destination.  As with any job, role or position in life, if you don’t care, you might as well not be there in the first place.

When hotels make that extra effort, you appreciate these little touches.  At The Ritz Carlton in Vienna (swoon) where my half Viennese best friend nearly blew up the hotel, they prepared home-made gluten-free bread for me.  I felt special and loved.  The bread was delicious (and it wasn’t poisoned, despite my friend’s antics).  I don’t think many chefs actually taste some of the GF bread they give guests.  Most of it tastes like chalk or rubber (not that I regularly chew on either).

The suites at The Chedi in Oman are impressive.  I nearly set fire to the room with all the candles burning for ‘me, myself and I’.  I did feel a bit of a knob on my own in a ‘romance’ suite with a 10 foot sunken slate bath filled with rose petals and lemon water but it was still glorious: from the smell of the room to the quality of the spa treatments, it was like taking part in a little slice of Heaven.  I also changed shower rooms depending on my mood (there were separate ‘His and Hers’ rainfall showers). 

In London, The Café Royal hits the spot every time.  Even popping in for a coffee at the café, you feel part of history, staring up at the photos of some of the truly good and great that have frequented this genuine London landmark.  Not only are the WC’s great (I still check, like some weirdo and wish I could sign off the loo checks on the wall) but the food is wonderful and the staff attentive.  Everyone can be a movie star at Café Royal.

One of the main problems with a lot of hotels is quality of staff (or lack of) and rubbish food.  I have told many a Central London hotel that they could be increasing their turnover by at least 30 per cent if they kept their guests dining in-house.  I love a bit of room service (and I mean in the traditional sense, wink) but I usually end up at Whole Foods, M&S, Da Mario in SW7 or Maroush because a lot of (London) hotel food is expensive and crap.

A good menu is not difficult to create and it doesn’t have to cost over the odds.  Simple fayre usually works well for business travellers and leisure guests from overseas should sample a showcase of local cuisine rather than go away thinking that British or xx cuisine is poor.  I sometimes wonder who designs hotel menus and whether any thought is put into the ‘why’ behind choices.

And now we come back to my greatest obsession: hotel bathrooms.  I am big on bathrooms (and toilets, clearly) and some hotels will try and cram a tiny creaky shower in the corner of the room, built for garden gnomes (I am not anti-gnome).  Some bathrooms are clearly designed by men, without being sexist in any shape or form, but with no regard for space and enough of the same for all of a lady’s essential toiletries and makeup.  Ditto lighting for makeup – if the lighting isn’t right, your face may end up looking like Neil in ‘The Inbetweeners’ with his fake tan (in the first film).  And why are hairdryers always only five volts even if the machine states 1600V?  Are there mice running on a wheel to power them?

And now to another obsession: hotel windows.  I won’t stay anywhere that doesn’t have a window that opens.  I feel locked in and could actually smash a wall…so airport hotels and mid-town Vegas don’t work for me.  Plus airco turns me into an advert for the ‘Tunes’ throat sweets (who remembers this ad?) with sinus pain.  In Kilburn, NW London, there is a hotel whose windows don’t open but I think this is more to do with insurance and local crime rates rather than jumpers from a tower block. 

Bottom line, hotels need to regularly up their game.  There is always a new investment project or flashier reception being built and recouping costs on a hotel is no laughing matter.  Who cares if there is gold leaf on the ceiling (as per a few hotels I have been to).  We aren’t going to lick it off are we?  What guests want is never rocket science but different travellers have varied requirements.  Management need to put themselves in their guests’ slippers and maybe even visit the toilets on occasion. 

Perhaps I will get a hotel in the future, one offering a spa, gym and Sunday BBQ’s by the pool for non-residents.  I know the name, can visualise it all and know that I would build a loyal customer base, probably mainly from my mates wanting to be fed!  You can guarantee three things.  Staff will be well trained (in the host country language); toilets will be the epitome of bathroom porn and food will be excellent, offering local and seasonal produce, tailored to the guest. 

The Grown-Up Hotel Inspector has a lot to live up to.     

Lipstick Leslau (in the makeup sense) and Ms Kohl



I have a confession to make.  I am obsessed with ‘capsule’ everything (well, not everything!?).  The wardrobe I can do.  Toiletries are getting there.  But makeup, hell no.  In my quest to find the perfect set of makeup that, in my fantasy, adorns every Supermodel’s oversized day bag, I have spent thousands of wasted pounds, euros and dollars, on makeup that disappoints me.


Perhaps I need therapy about this?  I sit on easyJet planes from Malaga to London and back and dream about the perfect palette, particularly because I am determined to only travel with hand luggage in the future (you heard it here first, people).  Customs officers actually scare me…will they?  Won’t they. 


I might actually sue Boots as they claim that their plastic holdalls are an ‘ideal size for airport security’.  According to Luton airport staff, this is not the case.  Or holdall, to be precise.  Some of my favourite items were taken from me.  I felt robbed.  I am going to write to Boots, Lord help them.  Anyway, back to makeup…   


The travel sets so fondly created by beauty houses, whilst great in principle, never get it right.  What is this obsession with dull, ridiculous eye shadows, in colours that you just wouldn’t wear?  And so many of them?  Or colours so very sparkly that your eyelid resembles Christmas wrapping paper.


The blushers either make you look like a TOWIE reject or as if you are auditioning for Gerry Cottle’s circus (I’m thinking more clown than elephant).  The powders and their associated brushes are so small you end up getting either a streak of green eyeshadow to mattify your brow or a flash of bronze somewhere under your chin.


Don’t get me started on foundations, primers, concealers, brighteners, pigmentation dimmers or enhancers.  Laura Mercier is the best but I wish she would do mini versions.  In theory, I would love to use Bare Minerals but knowing my luck, customs would think I was a drug smuggler.  Or I would sneeze at the time of application and my joyous prizes would go everywhere except on my skin.


Lip colours are usually designed for the 80+ age group (no offence to 80+ mind you, respect) and this enters a whole different arena.  How a lipstick or gloss can look FABULOUS on your hand or in the mirror and then selfie mania begins and it then looks altogether wrong, is unfathomable to me.  I have found the perfect lipliner though, a saving grace in this sorry tale.  Terry is the brand.  So my capsule makeup kit is lonely, just one-item strong.  Most lipsticks should actually be banned.  They look hideous, even on the catwalk.  Some inspired beings should not watch fashion shows and should not be allowed to shop alone.


Eyebrows are another full-time job.  I actually end up using waterproof kohl pencils (blended) for my eyebrows.  Powders tend to make you look like the world is hovering above your brow (or too dusty) and pencils are often so hard that you end up with a graze.  I must have eight pairs of tweezers, ranging from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’.  The good ones I can always find.  The excellent ones are stolen in the wee hours by tweezer thieves, I am sure of it.  I might buy a metal detector.


Mascaras and eyeliners, I love the mini-versions so these get a tick, as long as they are decent.  I always wear waterproof eye pencils and mascaras but no makeup kit contains similar versions.  I don’t wear waterproof makeup due to the fact that I am prone to weep a lot.  Moreover, because I am a klutz, adore a big false lash and also to combat heat, humidity and cabin air or the like.  They also tend to glide on better.  I am a big fan of the kohl.  Not in a Helmut kind of way, mind you.


So, in summary, here is what my perfect makeup kit requires:-


Great base, with just that hint of reflectiveness and overall cover without making you look like a cake top – small size


Pore minimizer – small size, the Clarins one is great but comes in a cumbersome glass pot


Powder – flat and transparent in colour, with a washable applicator


Three eyeshadows – small, matte (2) and iridescent without colour for the evening (1)


Eyebrow pencil – that reacts to the colour of your skin


Waterproof mascara – a wand with brushes (small size but not compromising the size of the wand)


Kohl eyeliners – waterproof, small size, in two colours, one for day (khaki green for moi) and one for night (blue/black, also for moi)


Bronze/Blush – that reacts to your skin type – less on sparkle, more on pigment


8-Hour cream – does everything that a highlighter likes to do without making you look like cupcake frosting.  Many a lady gets highlighter application soooo wrong in her application (just look on Instagram)


Lipstick – dual ended, one for day and one for night, small size


Gloss – one, without lights or fluorescent beads but has to smell yummy (not essential if you have a mini 8-hour cream but we all love a Juicy Tube, right?).  Many a lady’s day has been made by a pack of Juicy Tubes


Brushes – two double ended brushes (blusher/bronzer and eyeshadow sponge/brush)


Lip liner – the one and only Terry lipliner


False eyelashes – Hooray for the false lash


Tweezers – the ‘excellent’ ones, when found by the new metal detector


Makeup bag – another big challenge, the zip being in the right place so that nothing falls out, enough pouches etc


So, who is going to be the genius that finds a solution for millions of women’s faces, travel thoughts and social media misdemeanours?  Let’s plot against the customs’ people.  Some women can get makeup so wrong…please help us minimise the fallout on Twitter and Whatsapp.  Or will I have to create Leslau’s Perfect Lipstick n’ Kohl.  Not a Helmut or Cheryl in sight.