Belfast Telegraph

Selfie specialist: Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, the revolutionary painter who declared 'what doesn't kill me, nourishes me' 

Today, Frida Kahlo is probably the most famous female artist in the world. Although she died in 1954, aged 47, she is truly contemporary: she is the artist of the selfie, since most of her paintings are self-portraits. Even in her own lifetime, she had revolutionised the genre of the self-portrait, bringing not only a dazzling female sensibility and intensity to it, but a narrative of family, nativist culture, costume, obsession with fertility, Surrealism, revolution and religious iconography.

Growing problem: volunteers try to clear plastic from the sea

Plastic was a fabulous invention that delivered so much, but it's now choking the planet 

So here's the new villain in our lives: plastic. Every time we pick up a takeaway coffee in its plastic container - and, even worse, with a plastic lid - we are contributing to the agonising death of marine life in the oceans. Whenever you purchase a bottle of water in its plastic container, you are adding your own little bit to the 8.3 billion tonnes of waste plastic floating around the globe, most of it accumulated in the past 15 years.

Puzzling time: just like a maze, in life most of us don’t know what’s around the corner

Childish, cheesy fable about the impact of change opened my eyes and contains a lesson for us all 

I was delighted - and honoured - to co-host an event at Listowel Writers' Week yesterday, when people spoke about 'The Book That Changed Me'. But it was embarrassing to have to disclose one of the books that changed me because it is so unliterary, so corny and, frankly, so low-brow that commentators have said a child of six could have written it. But there you are: enlightenment comes in the most unexpected guises.

Screen test: Meghan in Suits

Mary Kenny: If Meghan wants to give feminism a boost, quitting her successful career is an odd way of doing so 

I always thought that one of the regrettable aspects of Grace of Monaco's life was that she quit her profession after marriage. Admittedly, women did, usually, resign their jobs on marrying (or were obliged to do so) in those days, but it didn't always apply to women in the arts, and certainly not in the performing arts - some famous actresses even styled themselves "Mrs" for added distinction.

Musical memories: modern families rarely gather around pianos for a sing-song

Our family piano has 85 years of history to play out... with many more high notes yet to come 

Some decades ago - back in the 1930s - my mother acquired an upright piano which pleased her very much. It had, she told me, belonged to the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid, when he was Dean of Blackrock College, and whether she purchased it from him directly or through another owner wasn't quite clear (Younger people, if you want to know something about a past episode of your family history, remember to ask while there is still someone alive who can answer. The day will come when there is no one left who knows).

Meghan Markle

Mary Kenny: From Twitter tantrums and Brexit to Meghan and Melania, what this year has really taught me 

In 2017, I learned: how to waste an enormous amount of time on Twitter. How bad-mannered and ill-tempered I can become on Twitter, in (perhaps imagined) contrast to being reasonably cordial in normal life. How to pronounce 'quinoa' - though I'd rather pronounce it than eat it. That the "new" cure-all therapy is sleep. Not all that new, though: the Victorians prescribed "bed rest" for every ailment.

Despite their dwindling allure, postcards still depict a picture of humbler and happier times 

It's pleasing to see shops in Ireland still display and sell pretty picture postcards. I hope that visitors are buying and sending them, but the postcard is not a thriving business, worldwide. The American postal service has been charting a progressive decline in postcard sending since 2010. Last month, in Britain, the oldest postcard publisher, J Salmon of Sevenoaks, announced its closure - put out of business by changing holiday habits and the instant gratification of social media. It's reckoned there's been a 60% decline in the picture postcard over the past 20 years. People are taking more holidays but sending fewer cards.

Spoiled child: Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret's now portrayed as spoilt and difficult, but there is much more to her than that 

It was always known among reporters who covered the British royal circuit that the late Princess Margaret was "difficult". She liked to be seen as a royal rebel and "with it" - in the lingo of the time - but people were warned that she'd seem friendly and approachable, and then suddenly pull rank. If those socialising with her alluded to "your sister", she would haughtily correct them with an icy "you mean, Her Majesty the Queen".

Royal saga: Charles and Diana led an unhappy marriage. Photo: Martin Keene/PA Wire

Sentiments of Jane Austen echoed in loveless relationship of Charles and Diana 

It would be an exaggeration to say that I knew Diana, Princess of Wales, but I met her, and it later transpired that she read what I wrote. Or maybe she just read the reports about herself, for she said to the editor of The Daily Telegraph (as he recounted subsequently), "Why can't you write nice things about me, like Mary Kenny?" I suppose I did write positively about Diana because she was a very winning personality, and seemed so unstuffy: she spoke rather simply to me about how she really would have liked to be a nurse, and how rewarding it was to look after people who were ill or afflicted.

By a whisker: cats feature in works by Doris Lessing and Maeve Brennan

Why feline friends have made great subject matter for many fine writers down the years 

Many writers have featured cats in their prose (or poetry): TS Eliot, Colette, PG Wodehouse, and a beguiling little cat appears in the first pages of Joyce's Ulysses. But maybe the most chilling feline story was written by the Gothic novelist Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat. It is a truly terrible tale - but also a gripping one - about a very disturbed man who is in the power of a "gin-nurtured … fiendish malevolence".

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