I believe I have perfected the facial expression that says,

“You are an utter idiot and I fail to understand how you have survived to adulthood.”

I have had plenty of practice, and I have become rather adept at  delivering those withering glances to those who believe they are superior to me or think they might like to talk down to me. It is on these occasions that I wish I could use Skype to talk over the telephone. I have had quite a lot of “those” conversations recently.  However, I made a promise to myself when I started this blog that I would not become personally critical towards anyone.  Organisations, yes, individuals no; despite my patience being tried to the nth degree at the moment, not so much on a daily basis, more on an hour by hour basis.

I can tell now that everyone who knows me is thinking

“Does she mean so and so?”

Well, to put you out of your misery, yes, actually, I do.  All of those people.  I admit it, i do not suffer fools gladly.

Delivering such glances set me on a train of thought about non verbal communication.  How did we humans become so good at understanding a look?  Actually,  I seriously doubt that some people are good at it, because I were on the receiving end of that type of look, I’d have to do something about my behaviour but I’m going off the point again.

Apparently, humans make 21 different facial expressions as a matter of course, happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, to name but a few.


In evolutionary terms, the smile is a new addition to the human facial expression repertoire. Other mammals don’t smile as such, even though as pet owners we may choose to believe otherwise.  (Believe me, if you have ever been on the receiving end of one of those looks from a cat when you have misbehaved, you will know that they can certainly scowl!)

Smiling is our nicest facial expression and is believed to have evolved from what is known as a “fear grin,” when primates bare their teeth to show predators that they are not a threat to them.


The smile is a pretty much universal expression, people from all cultures and backgrounds do it but it doesn’t signify the same thing in all cultures. In the west, it is seen as a welcoming gesture, a sign of happiness or pleasure. It is also an attractive signal in females towards heterosexual males, although the reverse is not necessarily the case. In Japan, the smile may signify anger or confusion, and in other parts of Asia, it may be a sign of embarrassment.

There are genuine (Duchenne) smiles and non-genuine smiles, sometimes known as botox smiles. A true smile, a Duchenne smile, named after a French neurologist, is the one where the orbicularis oculi muscles are involved and where the corners of the mouth turn up. The orbicularis oculi raises the cheeks and forms the crow’s feet around the eyes (never mind!) The Botox smile is the one people use when they are not genuine or maybe just being polite. Or politicians. They use this one a lot.

It actually takes fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown, which is probably a good reason to smile more. It’s been proven that by changing our physiology, we can improve our mood, so there are lots of benefits to smiling. And there is something about a little baby and their smiles and laughter that, for me, makes it impossible for me not to smile too. In fact, seeing a baby smile and laugh usually makes me laugh too. It really is infectious. Laughing is good too, there are reports that it can help to improve our health.

Talking of laughter, a couple of weeks ago, I tried get my two little ones into the cat carriers to take them for their bi-annual check. I am not big on selfies but I wish I could actually have got to the camera in time. Little Rhea wrapped herself around my neck like a fur collar. I know it is immensely stressful for them (and there is usually blood drawn. Mine.) but it really made me laugh out loud. Cats may not be able to smile but they can surely leap a long way when they are trying to avoid being put in a pet carrier.

And finally, a huge reason to smile…. I’ve written about my dear friends, Kate and Geoff, and granddaughter Hari who was going to run the Rome Marathon in aid of leukaemia research…. Hari achieved it in 4 hours 13 minutes, and has raised £1648.47, 109% of her target. Well done Hari, I know how proud of you Kate and Grandad are. And good luck for the Great North Run.


© Susan Shirley 2015


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