Maybe small-talk proficiency comes with age. Photograph: iStock

The pleasant, largely meaningless drivel we engage in must have mental-health benefits

This Smells Like My Vagina: there’s nowt quite so queer as Gwyneth Paltrow when it comes to finding new ways to fiddle around with one’s fanny. Photograph: Nina Westervelt/New York Times

This lump of wax with a wick in it has flown off Goop’s shelves. How gullible are we?

It’s not surprising that people file for divorce at this time of year Photo: istock

Hilary Fannin: It's no wonder the second week of January is the most popular time for divorce

Hilary Fannin says thank you for reading. Photograph: istock.

Hilary Fannin: Columns that garnered most reaction this year were often about darker subjects

Christmas is over for another year. Hallelujah says Hilary Fannin Photo: iStock

Hilary Fannin: I’m always pretty grateful when the Christmas season starts to subside

It’s wonderfully reassuring, as I limp towards another Christmas (older, poorer and vaguely happier), to know that my unmatched plates and glasses are as close to on-trend this year as they’ll ever be. Photograph: iStock

For last-minute gift ideas, try a bamboo toilet roll from Gwyneth Paltrow – only $30 each

“His last Christmas present from his family was a firm launch into the deep waters of eternity. Usually we just bought him a book.” Photograph: iStock.

Hilary Fannin: He’d hastened his own death with amber whiskey and a frisky little Merlot

Books are out of reach for some children. Photograph: istock

‘Your daughter has stolen a book. We found it wrapped up in her school jumper’

Big purple aubergine. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: All you need for Christmas is sex positivity and an aubergine

'Those who had married young – often very young by today’s standards – lived in those hopeful, tender, fledgling unions through a bruising, prolonged recession in the 1980s.’ Photograph: iStock

We had survived, thrived even, finding our paths through a patriarchal network

`I offered myself that day as a conduit, a pen, a keyboard, at T’s disposal to tell as much of her story as she wished to share’ Photo: istock

Hilary Fannin: I offered myself that day as a conduit, a pen, a keyboard at her disposal

“I thought,” she said on the phone, “that I had privacy. I’d never thought about my body in that way.”

Hilary Fannin: Who stands before a half-naked middle-aged woman at 8am and asks when her baby’s due?

On the day of the dead, candles are burnt in colourful glass globes next to vases of yellow marigolds, to light the journeys of the deceased to the next world. Photograph:  Agustin Paullier/AFP/Getty Images

Hilary Fannin: I think about buying flowers and leaving out bread and wine for all my thirsty old ghosts

Turn my phone off at night? There’s an idea.

Hilary Fannin: I sleep fine – apart from the flatulent cat, the pinging phone with messages from Perth– seriously, I sleep just fi(...)

It was either the cat or the car that was going to keel over

Hilary Fannin: Its old boot used to hold my mother’s wheelchair and my sons’ broken bikes

The concierge looked askance before disappearing into the gloom. Photograph: iStock

‘Do you think we’re in a hotel?’ I asked my friend. ‘Maybe we’re about to be euthanised’

The way we were: You had to speak fast in telephone boxes, trying not to breathe in the pungent smell before the money ran out

Hilary Fannin: Sometimes I long to be somewhere that’s not embroidered with memory

The gurgling babies seemed to multiply. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: Sweet, enchanting, innocent, vaguely edible-looking babies. Keep an eye on your wallets, that’s all I can say

Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen: Their third book continues in a Bridget-esque first-person confessional vein. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Review: Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen continue their acute observations of a safe social world

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923), Sewing the Sail, 1896. Photograph courtesy:  Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

Hilary Fanin: I’m good at scooting around the city, throwing sausage-flavoured gins into myself without a flicker of remorse

Candace Bushnell gave up her lovely life in East Hampton to bag herself a man back in New York. Photograph: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for East Hampton Library

Hilary Fannin: Feeling lonely in your middle years? Take Candace Bushnell’s advice

“We sat and ate and drank too much and dug up our shared past like determined toddlers with seaside spades until we came to the dark wet sand where the lugworms slithered”

Hilary Fannin: In truth the past loses its potency the closer you get to being the past yourself

Meghan and Harry with the newborn Archie. A push present doesn’t  have to be fashioned from diamond, platinum or gold but a piece of postpartum bling  has been spotted on Meghan’s finger. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/Reuters

There’s one gift I would wish for every new mother and it’s not a piece of jewellery

We reminisced about that other millennium we once inhabited, long before chai tea and inclusivity and beautiful young girls in Lycra saluting the noonday sun

It is not time yet for our collective memories, like old buildings along the docks, to be pulled apart

All women’s toilets are not created equal. Photograph: istock

Hilary Fannin: Time stood still; minutes felt like hours behind that indifferent door. I was locked in the toilet

‘I left London afraid that something would happen to the baby if I stayed’ Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: My urge to go home carried my son and me, and later his father, across the sea

“It must have been nice to snooze in the sun in the 1960s, unconcerned about the balding Amazon rainforest.” Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: My anxiety quota has been used up on my work, my children, and the state of the world

‘I’m suppose I’m lonely,’ my friend said. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: Don’t tell me to take up a sport. Especially golf, said my lonely friend

“I went out the other night with a couple of friends and ended up in a snug at 1am with a last glass of red red wine in front of me that I really didn’t need” Photograph: istock

You’re not as young as you used to be and alcohol is no longer your friend

Yep, it’s First Holy Communion season again and the country is awash in parasols and frilly white ankle-socks. Photograph: iStock

Conservative estimates suggest many families shell out at least €1,000 for the day

In the Public Theatre, I looked around at the parents of the young students I was graduating with, and wondered how many, if any, of them still felt inadequate. Photograph:  istock

It saddens me to hear people say they’d never have the confidence to return to education

Kim Kardashian and the Spice Girls: famous, and don't they want you to know it

Spice Girls reveal years-old sex fling, Kim Kardashian announces law career. Oh please, just give it up

Google 'talking to the dead on the telephone' and you won’t be left hanging on. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: It had been a dream, but it didn’t feel like a dream. It felt very real

A scene from War Horse which is on at the Bord Gais Energy theatre in April

Puppeteers inhabiting gargantuan, horse-sized puppets play a key role in bringing this epic story to life

‘I imagined all the frozen lipids crawling back in from the cold and snuggling up under my subcutaneous layers while I slept.’ Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: A clinic offered to freeze the fat off me but I bottled it at the last minute

By the time we were being guided to  giving the person closest to us a big positive-energy hug, I was positively hostile. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: I’m a lumpy, uncomfortable hugger, unless I am moved to hug at my own discretion

The Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons “and reproducing their sound with a kind of military proficiency”.

Hilary Fanin goes to The Jersey Boys: ‘In the name of god, how did we survive all that crap?’

“My mother’s career was, she felt, thwarted by marriage and babies, and nappies steeping in plastic buckets.” Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: When I was little women needed husband’s consent to buy washing machine

What would St Patrick make of us now?. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Hilary Fannin: We were told stories of Hail-Glorious-St Patrick-Dear- Saint-of-Our-Isle

As for wedding dresses, in 2019 tailoring is key, as is ‘finding the right silhouette to suit your shape’. Photograph: istock

Hilary Fannin: You have to have two wedding dresses now, even if you’re only marrying one person

It’s St David’s day today. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: I’ve been going to the gym for two weeks now. It feels like centuries

Haemin Sunim is a teacher and writer whose words of Buddhist wisdom are readily accessible on Twitter

Hilary Fannin: I’m not good with self help books. It’s appallingly immature I know

Tim Firth and Gary Barlow with the cast of ‘Calendar Girls’ including Rebecca Storm. Fern Britton, Sara Crowe, Denise Welch,, Ruth Madoc, Karen Dunbar and Anna Jane Casey

Hilary Fannin: Laughs, a satisfying cry, ‘Calendar Girls’ was nakedly charming

Weight-loss failure: as a child I would crouch on Mum’s wardrobe floor, under her “thin” clothes, fingering their silky softness. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: We’ve all glared at bulging buttons. We’re good enough as we are

The clinic does not do “the frozen look”,  preferring to send clients  back out into the world with a “natural” appearance

Hilary Fannin: I had passed the clinic quite often and wondered about it

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos photographed in April 2018 in Berlin. Photograph: Jorg Carstensen/dpa/AFP/Getty

Hilary Fannin: Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos have separated after a ‘long period of loving exploration’. I might be available. Just say(...)

Hilary Fannin: I walked on past bare trees and silted-up water, on tracks littered with dry leaves and budding crocuses

Hilary Fannin: Or do they just look in the mirror and tell themselves to get on with it?

Facing into 2019 I muse about having a different kind of existence too, now that my children are older Photograph: istock

Hilary Fannin: I’m full of good ideas for 2019. I’m going to sleep more and drink less

Cancel all get-fit regimes. No need. 2019 is the year of the comfy, solid, reliable cardigan Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: And there was I thinking the new year was going to be about embracing flexitarianism

Slimming knickers for Christmas? The cat is in the dog house. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: At least they’ll be useful for catapulting away unwelcome lifestyle advice

Gwyneth Paltrow: actor, lifestyle guru and curator of the good things in life.  Photograph:  Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty

Hilary Fannin: At Goop, the dachshund and I also peruse the pleasingly pastel vibrators

Are you a Christmas killjoy? Welcome to the club. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: Seriously, this time of year can be hard to love, with its orgy of consumerism, its debts and its temperamental Chr(...)

My grandmother would offer me money to go away, so that she could kick off into an orbit of her own where the stars were tinged with nicotine. Photograph: istock

Hilary Fannin: I heard my granny was a social climber, laughing behind her slash of red lipstick, which she wore even as a corpse

‘My mother’s ashes are in a pot of roses in my backyard. She’s currently sprouting some resilient little yellow buds’

Hilary Fannin: Learning the hard lesson that grief cannot be ignored

“I remembered Sally from when we were in school together, a diligent, pretty young woman” Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: My fragrant, pretty, well-off school friend became wistful over the persimmons

Sunrise at the Baily lighthouse in Howth, Co Dublin on New Years Day. Photograph: Frank Miller

Hilary Fannin: In praise of the continuing importance of Irish lighthouses

Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith with Rahul Mandal, winner of ‘The Great British Bake Off’.

Hilary Fannin: What TV show could ever compete with all that moistness and stiffness?

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Trinity College Dublin during their visit in July. Photograph:

Hilary Fannin: Naming a child is an onerous responsibility but Drumondrina has a nice ring to it

'The burden of perfectionism is obviously not confined to any one school or city.' Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: There is something insidious about being told at 17 you have not made the grade

Presidential candidates: Peter Casey, Seán Gallagher, Liadh Ní Riada, moderator Pat Kenny, Michael D Higgins, Joan Freeman and Gavin Duffy at the Virgin Media One debate this week. Photograph: Brian McEvoy/PA Wire

Hilary Fannin: They say the economy is in recovery now and these successful Dragons are reassuring to have around

“I spent some time perusing online eco-clothing brands. I figured that if I bought fewer items I could afford to start wearing jeans made from recycled ocean plastics.” Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: I’m drawn to the notion of a better self – a calm, centred, eco-self

This housewife life was never for me. Photograph: iStock

Hilary Fannin: I’m grateful life blurred the conditioning we received as children

'Second adulthood, which apparently kicks in at around the age of 50, seems to be a kind of adult adolescence.'

Hilary Fannin: Like a buttock lift, it’s just another desperate paean to the immortality myth

Gwyneth Paltrow, who told chat-show host Ellen DeGeneres recently she was 'working a Seventies vibe in her nether regions'. Photograph: Phillip Faraone/Getty

Hilary Fannin: Just as we started letting our Brazilians grow out comes a new luminiser

‘The midlife self-help guides I looked at seemed to be predicated on the novel notion that we are who we are.’

Hilary Fannin: Many of the titles seem to assume there are legions of us wandering around in a shadowy vale of varicose veins, bag(...)

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar takes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a jog in the Phoenix Park. Photograph: PA Wire

Whatever happened to the Pope's teenagers?

Active participation in stories helps children develop future mental health

“I think we’ll probably plant Marie’s ashes in a couple of big flowerpots with some rose shrubs.”

Hilary Fannin: I had thought we should scatter them over the cosmetics counter in our local chemist

“I wanted to tell her that after decades of living in the detritus of Irish solutions to Irish problems, I’m tired of women’s bodies being thrown around the morality ballroom like rag dolls.”

Hilary Fannin: No-side literature made me hurdle the garden wall to return it to its sender

My son wants to put the cat in a home, which augurs terrifically well for my future.

Hilary Fannin: It began when she said she expected to go to Gwyneth Paltrow’s wedding

Ryan O’Shaughnessy secures a place in the Eurovision final – in Lisbon, Portugal, 2018 during the first semi-final for the Eurovision Song Contest. Photograph: AP Photo/Armando Franca

With one vote left, it seemed Ireland wouldn’t break the ill-luck that has dogged us since 2013

'Us fiftysomethings, we never looked like that, did we? We were never so perfectly groomed, were we?'

Hilary Fannin: There is a look that is so ubiquitous it somehow defeats genetics

Meghan Markle is the former author of her own lifestyle blog, 'The Tig'. Photograph: Niall Carson/Pool/Getty Images

Hilary Fannin: Watch out Gwyneth and Meghan, it's time to splatter the blogosphere with a dose of suburban realism

I asked her, ‘Don’t you ever wonder what is the point in a day of action on plastic packaging when you can’t buy a cucumber without a condom on it?’

Hilary Fannin: Citing the plastic-bag tax, she said that Ireland had the capacity to influence behaviour at an international level

Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: As if in response to being left lingering in paparazzi limbo, Morton peppers the book with snide references to Markle being a consummate networker and social climber. Photograph: Alexi Lubomirski / Handout via Reuters

The quantity of pointless trivia can't disguise that Andrew Morton's book is entirely toothless

'Someone once told me, in a dark bar, that all the hoopla about unlucky connotations surrounding the number 13 was to do with the 13 steps leading up to the hangman noose.'

Hilary Fannin: I’m shortsighted and greying but not superstitious. Sorry, friggatriskaidekaphobics

Actor Meghan Markle, fiancee of Britain’s Prince Harry, arrives to visit the  Titanic  exhibition, in Belfast, on March 23rd.  Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Though I covet her well-turned pins – I worry they could prove a liability on any proposed 'mini-moon' in Dublin

We made our privileged pilgrimage back to the car, past silent men in doorways, unfurling like the fronds, watchful, expectant.

Hilary Fannin: On that wet, freezing night in Canterbury, youthful hordes swirled past the silent, watchful men, blowing on their (...)

'It’s been a quarter of a century since the three of us flatmates, and my friend’s sweet young child, lived together in a ramshackle redbrick house.'

Hilary Fannin: We were close, we were broke. Life was full of uncertainty. We relied on each other, helped each other out, sharing(...)

“It’s a personal issue; I get pretty edgy around fervour, flags, flagons, face paint and festivities”

Hilary Fannin: Stay in bed, phone your mother, listen to an album with your eyes closed

Cheryl and Liam: will they stay together for the sake of Baby, their 11-month-old bear? Photograph: David Benett/Getty/Universal

Hilary Fannin: Celebrity unions are collapsing day after Siberian-skied day

Coming from St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, on Ash Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Hilary Fannin: I wondered where everyone else was, the other women, the scientists and artists, the engineers and physicists, the (...)

Hilary Fannin: She’s tumbled in turmeric root, flung herself into fish oil and knitted herself a flattering pair of flax-seed bed-(...)

Cats and cars. Children and chat. Winter coats and wooden coffins. Boom, it’s all over’

Hilary Fannin: Where did the time go? What happened to those decades? Siphoned away. Quietly eroded. Pushed silently out to sea

Personally, I found Germaine Greer’s contribution to the debate the most seriously unpalatable. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Hilary Fannin: I found Germaine Greer's contribution to the #MeToo debate unpalatable - I don’t remember many women slapping men d(...)

Trinity College Dublin wasn’t for girls like me. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Hilary Fanning: At school, I was ‘weak’ at everything but unexpectedly here I am a mature student at Trinity College

Blame the Italian antecedents – I need light (and pasta)

Hilary Fannin: I suspect that it’s going to take more than a few cacti to salvage my home from wintery ennui

‘I wonder at what point one graduates to permanent fleece-wearer’

Hilary Fannin: Gomera is not party-shoe terrain – just as well, given my increasingly practical wardrobe

No organic wine in Paris for me. Just bed, a head cold and the cat

Hilary Fannin: Still, maybe Paltrow can help me rustle up a few new year resolutions

New Year: I had a drink to steady my incipient panic. I’m not going to be able to put off thinking about resolutions much longer. Photograph: Getty

Hilary Fannin: I can’t put off thinking about resolutions much longer

As the tide goes out on 2017, what do we really remember about the year just gone?

Hilary Fannin: 2017 was a tough year for me. Here’s what I think I remember of it

Sparkles is an elf from Elphin, Co Roscommon

Ten writers play a game of pass the baton to create a Christmas mystery about an elf from Elphin and a magic crystal

‘Being caught empty-handed when someone else presents you with a well-chosen gift is the cardinal sin of Christmas bloopers.’

Hilary Fannin: And don’t come crying to me over your spilt cinnamon milk

Britain’s Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle during an official photocall to announce their engagement. Photograph:   Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Hilary Fannin: And it’s probably a good time to wish him and Meghan the very best of Irish

‘I think about all the innocent children who suffered because of dangerous notions of purity and it makes me sad.’

Hilary Fannin: Today’s the day we celebrate how the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin

`A reluctant Christmas reveller at the best of times, I do know that I’ve everything to be thankful for, namely a roof over my head and a credit card’

Hilary Fannin: this year promises to be as predictable as a bog-standard Yule log

‘In the Cotswolds we walked on through the limp rain that whimpered and spat for a while until it bored even itself and dried up’

Hilary Fannin: What happens the idea of home when, even though you’ve lived half your lifetime in another city, in another country(...)

Theatre: “We all have our stories to tell; memories come back, sharp pricks of light against the black cyclorama.”

Hilary Fannin: I recognise the reality described by young women who tried to navigate the theatre world

Posh and Becks: there was a time when “Victoria exclusively ate only peas”; she also chews coffee beans at parties, according to the magazines in the beautician’s waiting room. Photograph: Frazer Harrison/Getty

Hilary Fannin: You never know what you’ll learn at the beautician’s

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