Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Secular joy: The Monochrome Set 40 Years of Aural Pleasure at The Lexington, sniffing Mrs Potts, and Yves Rocher Quelques Notes d'Amour

For those of you who remember my post in November about a B & B in West Hampstead and its aggressively laundered bedding, you may also have clocked the reference at the end to the fact that I had booked a Travelodge for my next trip to London at a very favourable rate, and that it was even prepaid. And that time came round finally last weekend, and I was beyond delighted at the prospect of paying considerably less, while not having to rough it in a 'plywood hotel', to reprise my sister-in-law's incomparable term for this most basic category of accommodation. Okay, not the most basic, maybe, as that way lie dormitories in hostels, but the most basic kind I can possibly tolerate.

Accordingly, on Saturday I set off on the train, and had a table and four seats to myself most of the way, for the rather offbeat reason that the guard had poured a pile of red sand on the carpet in the gangway to ensure no one tripped on some ground-in food a thoughtless passenger had left. I don't know about you, but I associate piles of sand on messes with vomit in particular, and I think other people entering the carriage may have had the same idea. Not quite travelling first class by the back door, but a crowd deterrent for sure.

Once in London, it was only a quick squirt up the Victoria Line to Finsbury Park, and my hotel was just a stone's throw from the station. On arrival, the first thing I did was close the window. What's the deal with open windows in the dead of winter? It wasn't even a smoking room. I guess if you are the sort who regularly sleeps with an open window you might see the point, but it definitely negated the benefit of the central heating set to a luxurious 23C. The second thing I did was to assess the stocks of those little milk portions (or 'jiggers' in the trade - or in the trade in 1984, certainly, when I was briefly product manager for catering products at St Ivel),and kick myself for not assuming they would only last one mug and requesting extra milk before I even left reception. I should know better. I stay in a lot of Travelodges.  Indeed - as I may have mentioned on here, so forgive me if so - it is a superb irony that while I regularly stay in her hotel rooms, the current HR Director for Travelodge Europe used to live in my house as a teenager, where she had the middle bedroom.

Source: Tripadvisor

I still haven't mentioned the reason for my trip to London, though there is a clue in the title, which contrary to appearances is the actual name of the event and not the usual bonkersness I might well have dreamed up myself. For the weekend just gone marked the 40th anniversary of The Monochrome Set, and the band decided to put on a couple of concerts, playing their entire first two albums in track order - one on each night - as well as a set of mixed stuff from different eras. The event attracted a lot of media attention, and fans flew in from as far afield as the USA and Japan. I can only claim to have had 39 years of aural pleasure personally, having discovered the band via a John Peel session on my 20th birthday, but that still makes me an old timer as fans go.

I was fortunate enough to be invited on a guest basis...well, there was a bit of an administrative glitch about the first night, and I had to be hastily reconstrued as 'crew'. This would have meant arriving preternaturally early before the door people opened up to retrieve my crew credentials - the all-important 'artist/staff' wristband - while possibly also carrying a dummy bag of leads for extra verisimilitude. I would have gladly done that, but in the end another guest was unable to come on account of his wife having fallen downstairs at the last minute, breaking several ribs. My first thought on hearing this was: 'Oh my gosh, poor woman!' and my second: 'I bet she was popular!' The guest in question had sadly missed the last gig he had planned to attend due to being rushed to hospital himself, so it seems he is pretty well jinxed on that front. So I was hastily re-reconstrued as 'Honorary Him' for both nights, and could pick up my guest wristband anytime I liked.

Source: Ents24

A word about these wristbands, which you were required to keep on your person for the duration of the weekend event, including in the shower and in bed at night. There were stern warnings to the effect that if the wristbands were tampered with in any way you would be refused admission on Night 2. Accordingly, after the gigs, the band page on Facebook was full of stories of activities people attending had undertaken while keeping the wristband on and intact. The most impressive of these was without doubt 'burying a dead fox in the garden'.

Having queued up to get 'banded', I repaired to the bar, and apprehensively ordered an alcoholic drink. I say apprehensively, because as I once said of The North in my post about Giles Coren:

"Why, you can buy a whole terrace for the price of a glass of Merlot in a trendy bar in Hoxton!"

 I gingerly proffered a fiver and asked for a 'small glass of house white'. And guess what? It was exactly a fiver! The last time I was at the venue I remember a bottle of cider costing £7.50 (the Jeroboam of cider bottles, admittedly!), so that felt like a bit of a win.

Source: Pinterest

Once upstairs, I made a beeline for Rachael Potts, who is not only a perfumista well known to many readers, but also - quite fortuitously - the wife of the legendary Tony Potts, the 'fifth Beatle' of The Monochrome Set, who used to do all their promotional videos and moody black and white films on stage during the early days of the band. He has come back into the frame all these years later, creating the latest video for their new album, Maisieworld, and was also responsible for all the back projection of film footage at the two gigs.

Obviously I had to sniff Rachael without further ado and ask her what she was wearing, as my spontaneous powers of recognition are nigh on zero. 'It's a mixture of ancient resins, topped up with Minotaure'. That's Minotaure by Paloma Picasso, which was famously one of the scents worn by David Bowie. Well, I was never going to guess that combo!

Jane, now the band's promoter outside Germany, and also co-manager of the growing merchandise enterprise with husband Dave, was next up on my sniffing list. She was sporting neat jasmine oils procured on her recent holiday in Granada. They smelt dark and rich and not unlike Rachael's 'ancient resins' indeed.

Staying with our perfume theme, another long time fan of the band was down from The Lakes. I had recently spotted a killer deal on a nearly full bottle of his favourite perfume, Isfarkand, on a Facebook perfume site, and had brought this to his attention. In the end, however, he blew his money on a box set of six vinyl LPs, the reissue of which coincided with the launch of the new album. And of course I really couldn't argue with that. ;)

On the first night I wore Immortal Beloved by House of Cherry Bomb. I have a little purse spray that is beautifully presented in a burnished red metal canister with a black leather bow. Well, the base knot of a bow, strictly speaking, not the bowy bit as such. It actually matched my outfit of red top and black trousers, though as I didn't need to re-apply the scent, such serious attention to colour coordination was rather wasted.

On the second night, Rachael was in Geisha Noire, also by Maria McElroy - to start with at least. I think she said she added another layer of something after that, but you know how hard it is to hear people at gigs. I had opted for Ormonde Jayne Ta'if, which is my second favourite winter scent after Immortal Beloved. That said, I am on such an Immortal Beloved kick at the moment - and Rachael really liked it too - that I could quite happily stay in this till spring.

Then as she does from time to time, Jane kindly gave me some 'gift with purchase' freebies that she had no use for (being a vegan, and a non-make up wearer), which included a mascara - yay! - and a bottle of Yves Rocher Quelques Notes d'Amour. Now my go-to review site for all things Yves Rocher is I Scent You A Day. Samantha didn't initially care for this perfume on account of the opening whoosh of red pepper, but she came solidly round to it not long after, while I liked Quelques Notes d'Amour from the off. I totally agree with Sam that it is a 'grown up rose', more suitable for autumn and winter. And for a scent that costs just £20 for 30ml on Yves Rocher's own site it really is punching above its price tag, at at least the level of Rose Essentielle by Bvlgari, say, which is the fragrance I would say it is most closely resembles. Both have a sandalwood/rose/patchouli thing going on, while avoiding that 'catch in the throat' issue you can often get when the patchouli is too heavy-handed. And the light and airy feel also steers clear of wan, cheap chemicalness that is a feature of scents at the bargain end of the designer spectrum.

Notes: bergamot, red pepper, Damascena rose, guaiac wood, patchouli, cedar, amyris wood, benzoin

Oh, and Quelques Notes d'Amour comes in a cute little bottle too, not unlike a miniature Maison Kurkdjian! Maybe I am drawn to this scent because of the happy associations with the weekend when I was given it, plus its name is rather fitting for Valentine's Day, if you are celebrating. I just checked back and I haven't written any kind of Valentine's post on Bonkers since 2016, and it's a pretty tongue in cheek one at that. But there's the link in case anyone is feeling shortchanged today by this 'secular' post.

Because the crossover of TMS aficionados and perfumistas reading the blog can be counted on the fingers of one hand (to date, to my knowledge! ;) ), I shan't dwell on the gigs themselves, amazing as they were, or on the fantastic feeling of fellowship with fans from far and wide, though that was one of the highlights. An American woman living in London - whom I would have very much like to have met - summed up the weekend perfectly in a post on Facebook, which I have abridged below:

"Two nights of unadulterated joy at The Lexington with TMS and 200 plus like-minded people, a community of true music lovers and the ineffable pleasure and infectious joy coming off the stage..... I danced, I swayed, I got so warm I had to take off everything but my tights and top ,feeling like Edie ( without the money or youth) at a Velvets gig..... Thank you for a tremendous evening, a foray into my wild and happy youth. There is no reason to stop feeling young and gay and listening to TMS."

Source: Jane Barnes

Finally, on my way back on the Sunday, I was accosted by a woman who asked if I had any spare change - not a homeless person, though clearly someone on her downers, who didn't have the train fare to Surrey. There's been a lot of positive publicity lately about people living on the streets, and though this woman's circumstances were somewhat different, I immediately got my purse out and gave her a pound. To my surprise, she looked unimpressed. 'Could you not give me a fiver, or six quid? That's what my fare is?' I said I was very sorry, but that that was all the change I had, tossing in my unemployed card for good measure. 'I am sure if you ask a few more people you will get the fare together', I added cheerily. 'No, I won't, I have been here for an hour and a half already and that's all I have got.' After a split second's thought I decided that I wouldn't feel personally liable for the lack of donations of other passers by and stuck to my original amount. I was really curious to know, but too polite to ask, why she would have come to London knowing she hadn't got any money to go home again. The answer may be obvious and I am being naive, but it did puzzle me no end.

So there you have it - a truly memorable weekend, with a gratifying perfume element, and a resistance to being shamed by an impecunious stranger.

Source: Jane Barnes

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Stepping into niche scent Narnia: a tale of two friends and a beauteous be-tassled bottle of By Kilian Beyond Love

Source: Best Wallpapers
When I have been at a loose end lately due to the general lack of work, I have taken the opportunity to do a bit of 'enabling', as we perfumistas call the process of helping friends to discover new scents. In my case, I have specifically been helping local friends who are 'regular' perfume wearers but who were curious to widen their repertoire by exploring some of the niche brands they knew I had in my collection. I wouldn't call it perfume consultancy exactly, as that sounds rather too grand / pompous, but in each case it was certainly a guided sampling session, whereby the friend would say what style of fragrance or individual perfumes they were drawn to, and I would fetch out things that were in that vein or something related. We didn't always end up in the place we expected, mind: for example, one friend requested 'rose perfumes with amber', and her favourites turned out to be a mixture of 'markedly spicy rose with amber', 'rose, vanilla and patchouli', and one featuring dominant notes of iris and tobacco and no rose or amber whatsoever.

But it is the upshot of the latest sampling session that is the subject of this post - with two friends at once! That took some fancy toggling footwork, to ensure that they each had a constant pipeline of things to try. Also, I had a much clearer idea of the taste of one friend (whom I shall call 'B') than the other, 'J'. B is a lifelong perfume wearer, whose earliest - and rather atypical - fragrance purchase was of Arpege by Lanvin, and who later gravitated towards floral / floriental scents such as Dior J'Adore and D & G The One. In recent years B has been troubled by the fact that The One in particular seemed a pale shadow of its former self due to (presumed) covert reformulation, and she was keen to see what else was out there. J, meanwhile, was a diehard Mitsouko wearer, who had recently smelt and liked Byredo Gypsy Water on her son's girlfriend, and decided to track down a sample for herself, as well as hunting further afield for a new scent she could call her own. J had also recently come across Cartier Le Baiser du Dragon, with which she was also very taken. I couldn't really detect much of a pattern emerging here!

So one evening in January, B and J came over to my house - they also know each other, as luck would have it - and over a few glasses of Chardonnay we explored 'sultry white/tropical florals' for B, and 'orientals and chypres of every stripe, plus a few leather perfumes for good measure' for J. I told you J's taste was more diffuse and hard to pin down...;)

After a couple of hours the dining room looked like a bomb site, and we had emptied several bowls of rather eclectic nibbles (beetroot and goat's cheese crisps and strange extruded, 'penne'-shaped pea snacks in a Thai curry flavour). And done the bottle of Chardonnay, obviously.

Both B and J put a cluster of bottles / decants in the middle of the carpet, representing their top picks from the night's testing. It took me a few days to make up samples for them - partly for them to keep, partly to return afterwards where I either had very little left of the scent in question or where there were practical issues making decanting tricky (eg rollerballs). Finally I duly presented them both with little organza bags containing the following:

B's selection

Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur
Van Cleef & Arpels Gardenia Petale
Van Cleef & Arpels Lys Carmin
En Voyages Perfumes Zelda
By Kilian Beyond Love
By Kilian Love and Tears
Belinda Brown Blessings
Dior Grand Bal
Byredo Flowerhead
Hiram Green Moonbloom
Illuminum White Gardenia Petals
The Party in Manhattan (surprise hit wild card)

J's selection

Ormonde Jayne Ta'if
Chanel Cuir de Russie
Dior Ambre Nuit
L'Artisan Parfumeur Safran Troublant
Serge Lutens Boxeuses
Sarah Jessica Parker Stash
Guerlain Apres L'Ondee
Biehl Parfumkunstwerke Mb 03
Bright Earth Parfums Eau de Earth

J's favourite on the night was Ta'if, a big love of mine, and I have yet to hear how the others went down after her systematic testing. For her part, B was extremely quick off the mark, having instantly and heavily fallen for Beyond Love, which Luca Turin famously called 'the greatest tuberose soliflore on earth'. Link to my own review of it here. B is working abroad at the moment and has already had compliments from colleagues about it (of either gender!). So smitten is B with her new fragrant squeeze that she wanted to move quickly on a full bottle purchase, so I said I would check out relative prices on the Net and suggest the best stockist.

Now I have never bought a By Kilian myself, though I was aware that the perfumes come in a very luxurious presentation bottle with the option of a plain refill at half the price for future topping up. B really liked the look of the presentation bottle @ £205, and I was able to reassure her that future purchases would be a fraction of her initial investment.

Source: Olfactoria's Travels ;)

Harvey Nichols and Les Senteurs had Beyond Love at similar prices once you factored in the shipping costs, but I figured Les Senteurs would include a couple of samples with that. And I do feel more drawn to Les Senteurs, because of Nick Gilbert having worked there, plus I know Claire the owner slightly, and their Seymour Place store (which sadly closed in December!) has been the setting for many a happy meet up of perfumistas - and its baroque sofa the backdrop for my avatar. ;) So I rang the Belgravia branch and the chap there confirmed that they do indeed offer samples. He organised for B to receive one of Carnal Flower (which she also wanted to test, but of which I had too little left to be able to share with her), together with a couple of others I steered B towards from the Parfum d'Empire line. So far, so satisfactory.

Not long afterwards, B texted me from Belgium to inquire whether the bottle she had bought was dab/splash only, which floored me rather. I knew it had to act like that in order to be refillable, but had assumed that there would be the option of a spray mechanism as well, especially at that price. My bottle of Un Lys from Serge Lutens came with a detachable spray mechanism, so I knew of at least one precedent for that type of dual system.

By Kilian tassles in the Naegele store, Augsburg!

To make sure, I rang one of the By Kilian boutiques in London, and spent the next ten minutes at complete cross purposes with the foreign lady in the store, possibly because I fatally used the word 'atomiser' to describe the nozzle-y bit at the top that does the actual spraying. So when I inquired: 'Does the bottle come with an atomiser?' I was told it didn't, and that the only way to get one was with the travel set, the cheapest version of which came in at £55. Which all seemed a bit steep and a bit mysterious. You spend £205, then you have to spend another £55 minimum to be able to squirt your new perfume directly on skin in the conventional way?? I kept reframing my question, but to no avail, so I rang Les Senteurs again and the lady I spoke to there - who was also foreign, but got what I meant immediately - assured me that there is a spray mechanism in the bottle already, but that it is unscrewable to permit refilling.

Phew! I was worried there for a moment...

Have you ever owned a By Kilian bottle - the full monty one, with tassle? (Undina...?)

If so, can you also confirm the presence of an integral spray mechanism? Just in case I misunderstood the lady in Les Senteurs...!

Editor's note: Not knowing at the time where it was all going to lead, namely to a significant purchase!, I completely failed to photograph any of our in-home sampling session, so am mostly improvising with a selection of photos from 'stock' of By Kilian and the esoteric pea snacks.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Le Jardin Retrouvé retrouvé! - how I came over all Nécessaire, and Citron Boboli review

Me in the Boboli Gardens, 1978 - bubble perm mercifully just out of shot
It must be a good year or more since I was sent a discovery pack from Parisian perfume house, Le Jardin Retrouvé. After my initial interaction with the perfumes  around that time, I put them away somewhere safe, so safe in fact that it was only the other day that they all turned up again in a box file that I thought contained some tax documents. Which is clearly not the sort of box you wish to rummage in terribly often. Having now at last retrouvé'd the scents, I am finally getting down to blogging about the line!

Originally founded in 1975 by Russian-born perfumer Yuri Gutsatz, the company was relaunched in 2016 by Yuri Gutsatz's son Michel, with help from his wife Clara. As stated in the press release accompanying the sample set: Le Jardin Retrouvé "needed to be brought up to standard with the norms of the twenty-first century, both as far as its aesthetics and formulae were concerned". Assuming "formulae" relate to the fragrances themselves, I can't help but wonder what the company's perfume portfolio was like before. I am reminded of one of those houses for sale on Rightmove that are described as being "in need of some updating", and which turn out to be derelict wrecks. I am sure that was not remotely the case here, but I am still curious about how the brand used to be...

To continue the story, Michel Gutsatz and his wife chose seven of the thirty odd fragrances that his father had created, and completely revamped the bottle format and livery. Me being me, I was just as interested in the packaging aspect as I was in the perfumes, though they appealed too! Right from the off I was reeled in by these dear little cardboard boxes-cum-postcards, each with a colourful image related to the scent in question. After each testing session it was haptically highly satisfying to stack the boxes up neatly and pop them back in their cotton bag.

Then as with Ormonde Jayne's core range, I am pleased to report a very high strike rate with this 'capsule collection' from Le Jardin Retrouvé. The only scent of the seven I did not actively care for was Cuir de Russie, but I know it has quite a few fans in the blogosphere. And I will give it another go sometime, as I usually am drawn to leather scents.

Having already sent me the sample set, Le Jardin Retrouvé followed that up with another generous offer, namely to send me a package called Le Nécessaire featuring my favourite scent of the bunch. This was a tough choice, as I was torn between Citron Boboli and Tubéreuse Trianon, but the Citron Boboli narrowly won as on balance I felt it was slightly more distinctive.

Le Nécessaire is the company's amusing name for the innovative new packaging format that is a central plank of the brand's relaunch. It comprises "a box containing an estagnon (aluminium bottle) of 125ml,and two extra bottles (50ml and 15ml) to fill using the glass funnel supplied. When they are empty the bottles can be refilled from the LA RE:SOURCE collection - 125ml estagnons of the precious perfume that can be bought separately..." [Capitals are the company's own. ;) ]

Well, lots of things to say about that, starting with the fact that I have now learnt the word 'estagnon', which sounds remarkably like a character in a Beckett play but is in fact a metal canister. The concept of a refill bottle of perfume is unusual but not unique - I am thinking of those plainer By Kilian bottles, for example, if you want to save a bob or two by eschewing the tassles. But I have never seen anything like this kit where the estagnon aka 'master receptacle' is NOT the original presentation bottle, but a container from which to decant into not one but a choice of two smaller bottles. One of these looks very like a Miller Harris bottle and the other a Nasomatto. I like them both! The 15ml size is a particularly welcome touch.

Also worthy of note is the box itself in which all this Le Nécessaire tackle comes: it was positively writhing with squiggly white hamster straw, against the backdrop of the striking blue and white pattern on the edge of the box. Which also featured a built-in shape sorting puzzle!

Guess where the estagnon goes!

There was a note with the package exhorting me to keep my estagnon in the fridge, which I have faithfully been doing for a whole year or more - just to the left of the onions and mango chutney (photo evidence on request ;) ).

Then the next step in engaging with the Le Nécessaire kit was to decant from the estagnon into my chosen bottle. This did not go well, so I wrote and told Michel Gutsatz so:

"I think it is a great idea, though the canister didn't pour very well into the funnel, unless it was my technique that was lacking. It sort of dribbled down the side each time. That said, there is plenty of perfume to play with. I will try again and see if I am maybe tipping it at the wrong angle."

To which Monsieur Gutsatz sent me this friendly and upbeat reply:

"I am so happy you have received it! I am aware that pouring the perfume needs a firm gesture! Please check our video to see how it should be done:"

Wow, check out this guy's assured funnel action! I think that is where I was going wrong...not holding the funnel as decisively, or pouring from the top down in such a perpendicular angle.

So it just remains to tell you a bit about Citron Boboli the perfume!, namely its inspiration, and how it smells once it has been successfully decanted into its necessary bottle.

Notes: Italian lemon, petitgrain, bitter orange, galbanum, black pepper, cloves

As with all the scents, there is a garden theme - clue in the name, I know! - in this case the Boboli Gardens in Florence, which are on a hill and boast a panoramic view of the city. I have been to the gardens at least three times: once on a backpacking holiday with a friend in 1978 (see photo at the top of the post of the Spider's Lane tunnel of trees), once with family friends in 1989, and once with a boyfriend in 1993. There was in fact an unfortunate incident on that last holiday in a cafe in the gardens. My boyfriend had been learning Italian at night school and was keen to deploy it at every opportunity. I had also been learning it by association - collateral language acquisition, if you will - sufficiently so to know that instead of asking the waiter: 'Where are the toilets?' what he actually said was: 'See you in the toilets!', which put an altogether different complexion on his purpose in visiting the gents, and an altogether different - and more ruddy! - complexion on the face of the shocked waiter, who hightailed it to the kitchen to hide.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (author: Sailko)

But I digress...Citron Boboli is a pleasingly astringent scent, pitched somewhere between sherbet lemons and creamy soap. I cannot truthfully say that it smells green to me, or of oranges, or even of cloves, which I would think I would notice, but all of those notes must keep the blend from being too overtly lemony, which it isn't. It is a 'pepper-spiked creamy citrus mélange', with considerable panache - not to be confused with panaché, which is of course the French for shandy - and I am afraid that is all I have to offer you, other than to recommend it unreservedly. And the whole range indeed.

To flesh out my extremely sparse review, here is a snippet from the brand's own visualisation of Citron Boboli:

"The view of Florence is stunning, but a grotto on your right draws you with its chilled air. Just at the entrance, a statue is bedecked with beautiful lemons. Are they real? Are they virtual?"


Well, I can't remember any of the grottos(!), despite having been there all those times, and it turns out that the gardens are awash with the things - well, there are three, each with multiple statues. I have no clue which statue Michel Gutsatz was thinking of, but having inspected lots of photos in Google images, I am confident in my deduction that the lemons were either virtual, or had been placed there by a tourist with a surfeit of fruit and a mischievous sense of humour. I am running with a picture of the Madama Grotto, also known as the Goat Grotto, because it amused me and contained no embarrassing displays of nudity or necking on the part of the statuary. ;)

I can also confirm that Citron Boboli the scent most definitely has a cooling feeling on the skin - more than any perfume I have come across since the cryogenic Chanel La Pausa. And I don't say that just because I have been diligently keeping my estagnon in the fridge!, for the little bottle has been kept variously in a box file and a bureau. But yes, a most refreshing choice for a hot day in Florence...

Oh dear me, please disregard the impossibly high and unflattering waist on those trousers! And do I spy a lemon top??

'Ponte something', 1989

Sunday, 14 January 2018

A nest lined with bubble wrap: hoarding tips from a 'perfume packaging magpie'.

It is over eight years now since I wrote about the endearing and slightly bemusing practice of popping a sweet in with a perfume package - standard practice on Makeupalley swaps back in the day. Since then the business of sending parcels of perfume and the actual packaging used to do so have continued to fascinate. I have blogged about insulation tape and bubble wrap and a little cardboard box that shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic on multiple scent carrying missions. And I am still fascinated, despite the fact that my perfume sending of late has been radically curtailed: as regular readers know, I don't attempt it at all overseas anymore, and even domestically I worry a lot, as you are only meant to post full unopened bottles in their original packaging, preferably cellophane-wrapped according to the rather draconian post office nearest to me. In vain did I try to explain that these days not all perfumes ARE cellophane-wrapped, even if I were ever minded to send a bottle that was BNIB, as they say. In fact I am not sure I have ever posted a single thing that HAS met the official Royal Mail guidelines...!

Yet notwithstanding my dwindling postal habit, I am still hoarding suitable bits of packaging like a good 'un - or like a magpie. THE Perfume Magpie is obviously someone else altogether, with her own blog - her magpie tendencies doubtless relate to being attracted to perfume and stashing that away. And a magpie might not in fact be the correct term for my own behaviour, because bubble wrap and envelopes are not exactly the bright, eye-catching trinkets traditionally associated with this opportunistic bird. Moreover, according to an article on the Discover Wildlife site, entitled 'Debunking myths about magpies' (would you believe there are quite a few myths, beyond their alleged bling-nicking proclivities?) that isn't even true either. It seems to be a much misunderstood bird. On balance, perhaps I am more like a squirrel, then!

The avatar of The Perfume Magpie!

So, you may be wondering, to what in the way of packaging am I drawn exactly? A considerable array of things is the answer, starting with bubble wrap, that classically protective wrapping that augments the intrinsic bubble wrap of a padded envelope. There is always a trade off between appropriate levels of swaddling and the ensuing fatness of package and associated postage costs, but I usually come down emphatically - and pneumatically - on the side of wrapping.

Pictured in the basket at the top of the post (sorry, nest!) are some random scraps of bubble wrap of varying widths and lengths, all potentially useful to our cause. But before I go on I must point out that not all bubble wrap is created equal. As I mentioned in my 2012 post on the subject, the ne plus ultra of all bubble wrap formats, the jewel in the crown - to briefly reprise our magpie musings - is the ready-made bubble wrap pouch or pocket, with handy foldy over flap, complete with traces of adhesive, if you are very lucky. Could a more perfect receptacle be devised for neatly enclosing and protecting a clutch of decants or samples?

Also featured in that post is another variant on the same theme - I still don't know the definitive word for this material six years on!, but back then I thought that it might be some kind of polystyrene. It is opaque and a bit stretchy, and does the job pretty well too. I may be wrong, but I associate this second pouch style with the USA. Can anyone confirm if it is a common bagging material over there?

Then I also squirrel away assorted plastic bags like this - they aren't particularly aesthetic, and offer zero padding, but come in handy as a leakproof layer at the very least, for which there is much to be said.

Still on the theme of bags, I also keep and recycle any decorative drawstring bags I am sent, as these make a nice form of gift packaging, again with minimal protective value. Though saying that, the velvet and suedette ones are a lot better in that regard than the organza, while the mighty white faux leather ones from Micallef are best of all in the padding department!

Moving on from bubble wrap, bubble wrap bags, and bags of other materials, I also collect small boxes. I have many more than this example, but I suspect I may have hidden a whole bunch of boxes inside a bigger box and then gone and hidden that somewhere(!) for so-called 'safekeeping'.

Speaking of bigger boxes, a special tribute should be paid to the trusty Jo Malone box, which is ideal for a large collection of slim decants or samples. There is more inherent sound proofing with a box than a bag, so it is easier to conceal the incriminating fluid nature of your shipment(!). This particular specimen is much travelled, and its sturdiness and rigidity means it still has many more miles in it.

Ditto this Hermes box, a much rarer animal, with its striking orange livery. The mini orange sleeves that house Hermessences samples - of which I am sure we have all had a few in our time, thanks to the generosity of Hermes stores the world over! - are also handy for stowing the Hermessence tubes they originally contained, or other long thin samples. ;)

And no review of packaging for posting perfume would be complete without a mention of the humble Jiffy bag, or Bubble Mailer, for readers across the pond. I have a drawer absolutely rammed full of the things: in every size imaginable, some more padded than others, some in white and some in fawn, some with ID8000 labels already affixed, some without. I am often tempted to pop a reused envelope with the hazard label on it into the post box, but I believe you are supposed to have the thing scanned in a post office, even though this does invariably invite a barrage of awkward questions!

So there you have it - a house groaning with packaging materials, and an ever growing reluctance to post perfume. I also have a bowlful of appropriate postal sweets as it happens...maybe on the increasingly rare occasions when I do send scented packages, I should pop one in for old times' sake...

Please do tell me if you are also a packaging magpie - or squirrel - and if so, what are your materials / formats of choice?!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Happy New Year! Plus flu-induced musings on perfume and life in general, and yet another surfeit of cat photos....

'You're really not very well, are you?'
Getting back to blogging after a month's hiatus is not unlike getting back into exercise after a long absence. Though I wouldn't know about that as I haven't done any exercise yet. Not that I do an awful lot at the best of times. But I thought I'd have a crack at a blog post, even if it isn't overly perfume-themed. My Facebook friends are already aware that my mad work phase in December segued seamlessly into a protracted bout of illness, from which I am only just emerging: I succumbed to a regular cold, which then morphed into this pesky Aussie flu which is doing the rounds. Or maybe it was two separate viruses, not that it matters really. As anyone who has had full-bore influenza knows, it really chops the legs off from under you, such that you would instantly fail the "not too ill to pick up a twenty quid note from the bottom of the drive" test. When the flu was most acute, I stayed in bed for four days straight, drifting in and out of consciousness. As in sleep, sorry - I am not trying to be melodramatic and suggest I was in a coma or anything. Any sound from radio or TV would have been too intrusive, so I just lay there thinking and dozing. Obviously I had to get up periodically to fetch water, or the crispbread bites off which I was largely subsisting at that point. Or to put more crunchies down for the cat.

Before I took to my bed, I took to the sofa.

Oh yes, a special mention is due to Truffle, whose quizzically concerned looks and sustained ownerside vigil were a source of great comfort. On New Year's Eve, a night when I would usually be out whooping it up amongst friends, Truffle lay on my chest with her face pressed to mine, intermittently licking the tip of my nose as if to say: 'You're poorly and I don't like the loud bangs - but we can make our own fun here just as well.' A big thank you is also due to the friends who did 'porch drops' of home made soup, stewed fruit and other nourishing foodstuffs. When you live alone, the good offices of friends are an absolute mainstay.

A change of room is as good as a rest - which we also had!

As the days went by and I felt a bit better, the cat noticed that I was changing levels in the house for a few hours here and there, so she relocated her watch to the radiator cradle in the dining room. At the first sign that I might be tiring and need to lie down again (a daily occurrence over the past week), she would return upstairs and continue her bed sitting duties, whether to one side of me, on me, in the bed, or on the warm spot at the bottom of the bed occupied by the hot water bottle. And eventually, a couple of days ago, Truffle decided that if I was well enough to get dressed I no longer needed constant ministrations, and promptly took up residence again in her cooker top eyrie.

Now although it is customary at this time, I am afraid that there will be absolutely no 'launches of 2017' retrospective from me - and probably never again. I am too far out of the loop to have anything approaching a proper overview of new perfume releases, though I have tested and liked a number of things which were launched last year. In terms of my favourite scented discoveries overall, they might actually be Annick Goutal Songes - in both the edt and edp versions (my only full bottle purchase of the year, and technically a re-discovery!), and House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved. Yep, if you restricted me to just two perfumes - one for summer and one for winter - at the time of writing these may be they. I cannot believe I just limited myself to two perfumes! And of course I reserve the right to change my mind at a moment's notice. I am indebted to perfumers and friends alike for continuing to send me samples, which is the main way I get to try new things these days, apart from my (exceptional) sniffing marathons like the one I had with Undina and Tara last May.

Songes also having a nice little lie down

If I am honest, I would probably not go near the perfume counter of a major department store even if I happened to find myself in one - not without being pushed in that direction. I know how much I already tune out to the fragrance section of Duty Frees in airports these days, albeit their selection is not typically in the same league. I will definitely try new perfumes if they land on my mat or are otherwise put in front of me, but I don't seem to go out of my way to seek things out any more, and a lot of the conversations that go on between perfumista friends pass right over my head. I haven't heard of whole houses, never mind individual scents!

I don't know if this is just a phase or whether my interest in perfume has now muted down to a positively passive level. Given that I already have such a huge stash to use up, it is probably for the best that I don't start developing too many new lemmings.

The night shift

During my time lying in bed all sorts of other random thoughts came to me about my perfume hobby: my attachment to friends is the blogosphere is as strong as ever, if not more so; I am still troubled by cliches in reviews (also from me!), by an excess of flashing, fruit machine-style ads - which to be fair you don't see very often, but I wouldn't like them if I did! - and by unspoken commercial connections between bloggers and perfume houses. As well as relationships that strike me as frankly coercive, whereby bloggers use a degree of emotional manipulation to 'extract' free product from perfumers and/or retailers to use in giveaways, or sell on privately to hapless newbies unaware of the bottles' provenance. I have been that (latter) soldier myself when starting out in this hobby. Nor do I care for perfumes with preposterously blingy bottles and eye-watering price points that cynically target stratospherically rich Saudi princes and Russian oligarchs, though I sense I have a problem with conspicuous luxury in every sphere! I also feel uneasy about decadently swanky perfume launches - apart from anything, the cost of those has got to be going on the price of the perfume...

Some of my sense of detachment from the perfume scene may be attributable to my current difficulties at finding work (notwithstanding the recent overload!). The enforced frugality which inevitably ensues may also have led to an estrangement from consumerism in general. For it is not just the scarcity of work: such projects as I have been offered tend to be pitched at more or less the going rate earnt by Romanian strawberry pickers. It would be unthinkable for a person in full time employment suddenly to be told they will be receiving a third - or even a fifth - of their usual monthly pay packet while doing the same job, yet in the freelance world it is clear that anything goes. So the viability of my current profession, and the need to find more lucrative and/or less stressful alternative sources of income is weighing heavily on me at the moment, such that the notion of buying a new bottle of perfume or an expensive item of skincare feels completely alien. In the event of a fillip to my finances that could of course all change...;)

Purple Christmas gin!

I haven't made any New Year's Resolutions as such, although one or two appear to have made themselves. For example I was very pleased to learn - following a statistical computation worthy of Undina - that in 2017 I achieved my target of an average of 2 alcohol-free days a week, up from 'just over one' in past years going back as far as I can remember. It doesn't sound like much of a lifestyle change, but that still probably equates to 40 days on which I consciously opted not to have a drink when it might so easily have been the default choice before. Thanks to the flu, 2018 has got off to a stellar start in terms of non-drinking: in the first week of the year I have had two days on which I have had a drink, rather than the reverse. So I am well in credit for the rest of the month at least, haha.

(Editor's note: In case I come across as a bit of a lush, I could perhaps add that I do mostly just have one drink at a time, so my weekly units remain within the Government guidelines. ;) )

The other 'not a resolution' that seems to be spontaneously happening - also prompted by my gradual recovery from illness - is reading. I am already 450 pages into the New Year, hurrah!, an unprecedented improvement on my reading rate in past years. I am sorry to report that I read just 11 books in 2017, so didn't quite make my target of one a month. Though work might make a jolly good excuse for December...

Beyond that, I have the usual clutch of vague aspirations: to go to bed earlier, knock off Facebook a bit(!), drink more water, and obey Michael Mosley to the letter and incorporate 150 minutes of medium intensity exercise into my life every week, at all of which I will most likely fail. Inspired by Louise Woollam, I'd also quite like to relearn to crochet...2017 has in fact been a great year for my knitting endeavours, and I have even earnt a bit of money from selling my wares. It is sadly too labour-intensive a hobby to ever become a full-time occupation, but it has its place as a hugely satisfying sideline. Oh, and I am actively considering doing Airbnb, as a friend in the next street makes a tidy living from that, with pretty much zero stress, beyond guests flaunting her house rules of not flushing the wc with the lid up. I have even let in one or two of her clients when she couldn't be around.

'Naja' the scarf

So we will see...2018 is definitely set to be a year of change for me on the work front - it just has to be. I haven't been wearing much perfume while I was ill, but here and there I did dab on a spot of Bois des Iles, which acted as a perfect complementary comforter to the cat. Thanks, Val! There are other perfumes I discovered in 2017 that I fully intend to write about, but simply didn't get round to, so I promise I am still a perfume blogger after a fashion till the fat lady sings. Or the thin lady more like, as I inadvertently lost 9lb over Christmas!

It remains to wish readers near and far a very Happy New Year - I hope your holidays were not characterised by illness or existential doubt. I will be back with perfume reviews in due course, and the inevitable tangential posts on toiletries, travel and Truffle...

Oh, and I am getting a flu jab next year. The requisite tenner is already on the hall table...;)

Monday, 4 December 2017

Hired, tired, and working up to the wire! Please excuse the Bonkers hiatus...

Well, after eight months in which I only managed to find work for two weeks(!), proverbial bus-style two big projects with short time frames have come along at once, and of course I have agreed to both. ;)

I was telling a friend who does Airbnb about how I may well have bitten off more than I can chew: "It's a bit like you having a guest in every bedroom - including your own - plus one on the sofa, one in the bath, and one on the bench in the garden."

Then because of the hours I am now keeping I can't give any thought to perfume at the moment, even though I have all sorts of posts in the pipeline. I am not even wearing the stuff on anything like a regular basis, such is the degree of my preoccupation with the tasks in hand. And my presence on Facebook is skeleton at best, which is highly unusual for me, as any FB friends will confirm!

So I will be back, but for the moment please bear with me for the ongoing hiatus. And for saying 'bear with me', for that matter.

Truffle is not too impressed either at the minimal interaction I have had with her lately, and has taken to staging dramatic stunts, such as this one with the radio flex outside my office door, which I am pretending I haven't noticed.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Scent Crimes Series: No 20 - Aggressively Laundered Bedding

Different duvet and a working bedside light! ~ Source:
Over the years, I have stayed in a lot of problematic accommodation - much of it cheap(!), with a natural tendency to fall short in some way, but even some relatively pricy business hotels have managed to wrongfoot and disappoint. The business hotels on expenses are very much a thing of the past, as on the rare occasions I have work these days, it is invariably on the phone, but I do still stay in hotels and B & Bs on a leisure basis. And when it comes to London, my modest budget per night used to run to half decent chains fairly close to my familiar stomping ground of King's Cross (er no, not in that way...!). For the money you could also bag a borderline boutique B & B in Paddington or Earls Court - with en suite facilities and the happy surprise of a small packet of biscuits nestling next to the tea bags and UHT milk pots. As time has gone by, however, those places have sadly nearly doubled in price, and I have been forced out to unfamiliar suburbs such as Tottenham and Tufnell Park, Archway, Acton and Penge, depending on what is available in my price range.

And thus it was that I ended up recently spending one night in a district billed variously as 'Camden' and 'West Hampstead', both of which turned out to be creative naming devices for Kilburn. I had booked a single room with shared bathroom, the bathroom in question being a quick scurry away up one flight of stairs, so that was okay, plus I had a small basin in the room. Other plus points were the veritable profusion of accessible plug sockets...I once memorably stayed in a hotel where I had to boil the kettle in the corridor, as the plug sockets in the room itself were largely obstructed by furniture. Moreover, there was the luxury of a full length mirror - something conspicuously absent on last December's band tour, to the point where I almost started to wonder if the hotels concerned were collectively teaching me a lesson in vanity - within easy reach of said plug sockets, making hair drying with bonus sight of own head an uncharacteristically viable feat!

Then the bed was comfortable, and the pillow - though lone and flat - adequately bouncy. The central heating worked (if rather too well!), and the staff couldn't be more helpful, pressing a huge jug of fresh milk on me after I reported the presence of only one milk pot, when as we all know even a strong cup of tea requires two.

But there were downsides...the hotel spanned two houses and the front door banged constantly as people moved from one to the other; the bed sloped; there was no bedside light, no hangers, and only one small towel. But worse, much worse than any of this was the duvet cover, which had evidently been laundered in an entire packet of washing powder. Trying to sleep under it was like spending eight hours straight with your nose pressed in the contents of a box of Surf. I am not even talking an overly strong scent - this was the neat unadulterated smell of detergent of the most aggressive kind, with no discernible trace of fragrance. Strangely, the pillowcase was at a normal register of cleanness, ditto the sheet and towel, but for some reason the duvet cover had been subjected to a much more concentrated wash. As you entered the room, a miasma of chemicals assailed your nostrils. It hung in the air like an ash cloud, and I could feel my skin turning hot and prickly, not helped by the heating being on at full blast.

Source: Appliances Online

I have since googled the main categories of ingredients in washing powder and came up with this list:

Anti-redeposition Agents
Corrosion Inhibitor
Bleach Activator
Lather Control Agents ('Suds Suppressor')
Fragrances (one fragrance may contain a few to hundreds of compounds)

I must say I rather like the sound of a 'Suds Suppressor' and hope that wasn't an element in the mix that was troubling me. I certainly was not aware of any builders, bothersome or otherwise. Why, there would barely have been room to swing a jackhammer.

All night long I clung to the edge of the bed - I was determined not to fall off due to the angle of inclination, whilst also trying to keep my face away from contact with the duvet cover, for fear that it would trigger my eczema / dermatitis. Miraculously it didn't, but the very real possibility kept me awake till about 7am, whereupon the frequent banging of the front door took over until I finally got up about 9am, bleary-eyed and still wrinkling my nose in a state of high alert and trepidation.

So there you have all my years of travelling I have never encountered this particular curved ball of repellently scented bedding, and would be most interested to learn if you have. Or whether you have any theories as to how this laundry fail could have occurred. A powder dosing error? A rinsing malfunction? A lamentable lack of other items in the load?!

Meanwhile, I have chalked it up to experience, left a damning yet balanced review on, and remembered that when I am down in town again next year I have a total steal of a Travelodge to look forward to in Finsbury Park. And it's even paid for already...