Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Dreams are made of this: Annick Goutal Songes review

Songes having a nice little lie down
I spent large tracts of the Easter Weekend asleep. There were no family gatherings featuring rack of lamb, Simnel cake, or egg hunts in the garden; no invigorating walks in bluebell woods, pub meals, or even chocolate binges - though I had a full complement of Lindt bunnies in the house, so goodness knows the opportunity was there. I did demolish a tottering heap of ironing, finally read papers from as far back as last Tuesday week, and appeal a parking ticket on behalf of an elderly friend, so the holiday was not wholly without accomplishment. But mostly I slept - and dreamt - and felt a curious yet languorous sense of disconnection from the world, which I sense is an inevitable part of the 'single household condition' (to come over all Camusian for a moment).

Token Easter concession of hot cross bun, plus mini-tsunduko of Ian McEwans

In one of the dreams, The Monochrome Set (my recent travels with whom were evidently still fresh in my mind!) were supposed to be playing a late night gig outside a ruined castle on top of a mountain. The craggy topography was positively Transylvanian in appearance, belying the Tewkesbury postcode on the band's itinerary sheet. The 'get in' - or 'get up', rather, in view of the vertiginous terrain - was hard going, on slippery ground and along unlit paths. I am not sure the band ever made it to the summit - I was onto the next dream by then anyway, about a defective glide rail in the cupboard under my cooker.

Val in the garden of the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis

I have waited till this post to mention it, but along with Naja, there is one other scent that is inextricably bound up with meeting Val and Chris in Augsburg. For on the Sunday I wore a sample of Songes edt - the conscious creation of happy associations with perfumes being a thing I increasingly do, rather than noticing after the fact that random fragrance X (not to be confused with the online retailer of the same name ;) ) happens to remind you of good time Y. In my book, deliberately orchestrating scent memories is just a logical extension of outfit planning, and it worked like a charm with Songes.

So much so that on my return to England, I felt I had to own it, notwithstanding my repeated protestations on the blog about not buying full bottles anymore, which must now be downgraded to 'trying not to buy'. In truth the last one was Tauer Perfumes PHI Rose de Kandahar a few years back, so I have been pretty restrained on the purchasing front. And in further mitigation, I managed to catch a fleeting offer on All Beauty, so my 100ml bottle cost just £47.95 including postage. That is less than £24 per 50ml! Why, you couldn't buy the latest 'same old' fruitchouli dross in Boots for that price, never mind a five star behemoth on the Bois de Jasmin rating system - with whose judgement I find myself once again fortuitously aligned. In further further mitigation, Val is copping for a big decant.

Notes: frangipani, tiare, jasmine, incense, vanilla, copahu balm, pepper, ylang-ylang, vetiver, sandalwood, amber, styrax

I have been wearing Songes a lot in the last two weeks. During a recent visit, my brother asked me what my favourite perfume was, which I obviously batted off as a preposterous question to put to a diehard fumehead. ;)  Yet the more thought I have given it since, the more I have come round to the possibility of only having TWO perfumes, and of Songes being one of them...! For while there is amber and styrax in the base, which one could consider 'winter perfume' notes, the composition overall sits squarely in the 'sultry tropical floral' category, which is not exactly the genre for which one reaches on a dreich and drizzling day in February. That said, I would not restrict Songes to high summer and exotic holiday locations, and I don't say that just because we don't really have a summer here and I don't go anywhere remotely exotic. Okay, not the beachy, Bounty bar kind of exotic, say. Some might say a residential container park in Stuttgart is a bit 'outside the box' as destinations go. Or 'inside the box', even. Sorry, I digress...but yes, I reckon Songes also works nicely in spring: like a cuckoo pint it is buttressed by a curling sheath of greenery - a compelling blend of vetiver and what I can best describe as 'a jasmine note in tuberose's clothing', most notably in the opening. For I detect a dewy, faintly medicinal** otherworldliness that reminds me of Carnal Flower, which I also see as having wider seasonal currency than its name might suggest.

**(or more exactly, a scent that is somewhere between grass, Germolene, menthol, and bubblegum, and I really do mean that in the best possible way)

Oops, we are tired again!

As Songes wears on, the narcotic and sensual bouquet of frangipani, tiare and ylang-ylang starts to bloom on a pneumatic bed of vanilla spiked with just enough pepper and incense to keep things from ever drifting into apocalyptic Loulou territory. Rather, this is a sort of 'sexed - and slightly weirded - up' La Chasse aux Papillons crossed with Ormonde Jayne Frangipani, featuring echoes of Amaranthine's creamily indolic milk pudding. There is an air of innocence about Songes, but if you were to tear away the soft focus veil like a tangle of so much diaphanous clothing, you would eventually uncover its carnal core. You might well have got fed up with the tangle wrangling long before, mind! If Songes were a film it would perhaps be a more grown up version of Bilitis, that stylish and moody 'coming of age' flick, of which my memory, like the cinematography, is hazy, but as a geeky and thoroughly unracy teenager I do remember it as an aspirationally risque cult classic. Even the theme tune is seductively soporific, in a slightly annoying synthesised Vangelis kind of a way! ;)

The most respectable still I could find! Source: Abe Books

Actually, park Bilitis with its youthful lesbian overtones - seductively soporific is really where it's at in a nutshell. Songes could be the signature scent of the Lotos-Eaters (aka the gloriously named 'lotophagi' or 'lotophages') as they munched on their lotus fruits and flowers, causing them to 'sleep in peaceful apathy'. Here is an extract from the eponymous poem by Tennyson:

"Eating the Lotos day by day,
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
And tender curving lines of creamy spray;
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
To muse and brood and live again in memory"

Source: Wikipedia

And that brings me back to another aspect of my association with Songes: if Bilitis is its gawky and not quite suitable film equivalent, 'On My Balcony' from the band's Platinum Coils album, would be Songes in a song to a 't' - or an 's'! The track takes as its theme singer Bid's stay in hospital, recovering from surgery following a brain aneurysm:

"Through the perfume of sweet velvet sleep
I glide into the afternoon"

As I mention in this early tour post, when quizzed about the lyric, Bid explained that his choice of the word 'perfume' was quite arbitrary, and he probably just liked the way the word sounded. Even so, the woozy cadence of the lines nicely evokes a state of dreamy torpor, scented or otherwise. There is about a 30 second clip here, which gives you an idea of the track's languid charm - not unlike early Genesis indeed.

And here are a couple of reviews, which serve to confirm me in my linkage of Songes to song!

"The tempo slows in 'On My Balcony', a ballad that feels like drifting down a tributary of oblivion." - From a High Horse

"One is lifted up to the gentle heights of On My Balcony, where, weightless, surrounded by a golden luminous haze, the concerns of the world float far below." - God is in the TV

And as it happens, at that eclectic asylum seekers' hostel-cum-hotel that was our base in Augsburg, my room had its own balcony! As did most of them to be fair, haha. Okay, and not strictly my own balcony - more like my own section of a communal balcony that ran the whole width of the building. But the decor of all the rooms - which were individually designed by an assortment of avant-garde artists - was very Lotos-Eaterish, come to think of it, in the sense of minimalist and surreal, and conducive to a state of peaceful apathy! Good job I managed to stir myself in time to meet Val on the Saturday night - you could easily sleep your stay away, which would be rather a waste of a visit to such a picturesque spot, though you would feel jolly rested at the end of it.

I will close this free association 'spacy review oddity' with some photos of the other rooms I find most Songes-like at the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, starting with the one I was meant to have, Grande Dame. (All photos sourced from the hotel website.)

Things start to get more diaphanous with Innen / Aussen:

My own room, 4 null 5, also gives good gauze:

Before taking a fluffy turn with Zauberwald (note also fluffy bedknob):

And here is Maskerade des Lebens - complete with balcony and trippy mural:

So there you have it - Songes edt, the scent of an asylum seekers hostel / hotel, a fabulous fumehead meet up, a hospital in Tooting, a dodgy 70s film, and those legendary lolling sybarites, the Lotos-Eaters:

"To muse and brood and live again in memory"

Are you asleep yet...? ;)

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Small pink knitting: a mini-tour with The Monochrome Set, including a meet up with Val the Cookie Queen

Val the Cookie Queen of APJ, and husband Chris
Some three and a half months on from their last tour - of which Weikersheim was the most southerly point - The Monochrome Set went back to Germany at the end of March to play two more gigs down south: in Stuttgart and Augsburg, which are in Swabia and Bavaria respectively. I did toy with putting 'a mini-tour of Swavaria' in the title line, but decided against it a) because it might annoy the inhabitants of each province to be conflated in this way, and b) because it would cause consternation among the Google bots, whose only reference point hitherto for Swavaria is a rather sweet YouTube video of an Indian baby smiling beatifically in his fleecy cocoon. Worth ten seconds of anyone's time!

The journey out: aka 'not doing the Time Warp'

Thus it was that on Friday 31st I took the train to the airport. By 9am (thanks to a prolonged tea stop at Crewe), my latest scarf project was already off the ground.

I was flying from Manchester, with a plane full of noisy youths in too tight T-shirts, and orange-faced girls with scowling Scouse brows and jeans so comprehensively ripped as to barely deserve the name of 'garment' ('barely' being the operative word). Since I last flew with Ryanair, they seem to have relaxed both their 'one bag' and their 'no drinking your own booze on the plane' rules, for the girls were knocking back baby bottles of rosé with abandon even as they flashed their boarding cards (and everything else!) at gate staff. Ryanair had also ditched the irritating music, though as happens with monotonous regularity, I was seated directly in front of a small child, who proceeded to thump his tray table in a series of exuberant outbursts throughout the flight, apparently prompted by a winning streak in serial games of Snap.

It seems it wasn't just me that was a bit cross...these 'Air Fury' hand driers in the ladies' toilets in Terminal 3 had got themselves so hot and bothered that two of them were out of order.

I met the band at Stuttgart airport - they had flown from Gatwick with a crowd of similarly vocal young people... We all piled onto the S-Bahn, heading for the Hauptbahnhof, and it rapidly became apparent that the majority of passengers on both our flights were headed for an event in Mannheim - my money is on a rave called Time Warp. It was equally apparent that they were assuming Mannheim was a suburb of Stuttgart, and were crestfallen not to see it listed on the S-Bahn map, like expecting Manchester to be the stop before Cockfosters on the Piccadilly line.


And soon we were facing some navigational challenges of our own, to wit the perennial game of 'spot the venue', the German music scene being noted for its arrestingly novel selection of repurposed buildings, from lost property offices to bakeries, hospitals, Art Nouveau villas, and the occasional punk squat. Though as I note in this post from 2012, most of the venues look like a punk squat.

A gig in a box

That night's gig was held in a shipping container - or to be strictly accurate about it, a couple of containers knocked through - on a 'residential container park' in the north of the city. As soon as I saw the abandoned bus I figured we must be getting warm.

The surreal sanitary ware statuary was another surefire giveaway, along with the sign pointing out that the whole area was designated a cultural protection zone.

Seemingly of the banana...and why not?

The backstage area turned out to be another shipping container or several, positioned a stone's throw away. This has to be the first time a green room has ever been larger than the actual venue. The band were greeted by the reassuring sight of the 'satsuma rider', despite Easter being nearly upon us.

Note the partially pink table...

I did a bit more knitting during the sound check, determined to knit enough over the course of the weekend to justify all the time I had expended in the run up to the trip, trying to bottom out the security restrictions on needles at each of the airports in question.

The gig itself was fashionably late - the band didn't play a note till 11.45pm - and the atmosphere took the phrase 'smoke filled room' (or 'smoke filled container', that would be) to a whole new level. Smoke of all kinds, indeed. Personally, I am not averse to a bit of 'passive spliffing' - I just have to walk the length of my own street to get a similar effect - but this was such an intimate venue that the line between passive and active smoking became academic. Notions of personal space also went out the window (and yes, the containers did have windows!). Consequently one woman, whose serpentine dance moves were suggestive of a transcendental state, over the precise cause of which it is perhaps best to draw a veil, persisted in inadvertently slapping my backside with every uninhibited flail of her arms. There was a twist too to the recurring problem at gigs of  'tall man' syndrome, namely 'two tall men bobbing sideways every five seconds' syndrome. I can confirm that despite the metronomic regularity of the manoeuvre, it was as irritating as Chinese water torture, as well as making photos of more than random body parts of the band nigh on impossible. Though I did get a lucky break when the 'bobber twins' went to the bar...or was it the loo?! For as someone who has done a market research project on public lighting in Germany, I was most impressed at the well lit signage to the WC (in another shipping container, obvs).


After a hearty breakfast the next morning - so filling in fact that I ended up lobbing pellets of leftover bread roll into the path of an opportunistic robin -  we took the train back to the Hauptbahnhof and on to Augsburg, just two hours east. We checked into the wonderfully eclectic Grand Hotel Cosmopolis, where I had time for a bit of a lie down in the afternoon.

The communal bathroom on Floor 4

'The Cosmo' (as it has become fondly known, with this being a return visit ;) ) is a ground breaking combo of hotel and asylum seekers' hostel built around the rather nebulous business model of 'pay as you feel'. I resisted the urge at any point to say: 'I feel awfully much will that be?' The room I had booked had been commandeered by the people staying before me, who had extended their stay, and I was accordingly bumped to one called '4Null5' (405). To be fair, you really can't go wrong in this place - all the rooms are quirkily fascinating to a fault. As it happens, I had had a surprise nosebleed the previous night, but the Cosmo had thoughtfully anticipated my health issues and provided an ample provision of ceiling-mounted tissues.

At about 6pm Val and 'no fear' husband Chris met me at the hotel, where we exchanged presents (see my Naja review) and had a drink in a cosy snug behind the foyer (its space travel theme neatly dovetailing with the band's latest release, 'Cosmonaut'!).

Then it was time to join the rest of our party for dinner in the bar of the City Club, downstairs from the venue. The three of us shared a giant pizza that had been harmoniously designed by committee, and which kept us going till the similarly late stage time.

As they had famously done in Ebensee, Val and Chris acted as band taxi again at the end of the night, before heading back to their own (more conventionally appointed!) hotel.

Photo courtesy of Val

By 7am the next morning I could feel my hangover kicking in with a vengeance, to the teasing peals of church bells. My pain-killing weapon of choice is soluble Solpadeine, so I decided to nip down to the asylum seekers' floors in search of a kitchen, and a cup. Though clad in my nightie I was confident that I was unlikely to meet anybody at that ungodly - or do I mean godly in view of the bells? - hour, and so it proved. On my wanderings I was touched by the fact that there were several pairs of shoes outside every door along the corridors. After a cursory flurry of cupboard door opening in the one kitchen I wandered into, I felt as though I was trespassing and returned to my room. Where I had the bright idea to break up the tablets and dissolve them in my water bottle. When I recounted my adventure to the band, the bass player suggested that if it didn't already exist, it was time someone invented a collapsible ceramic mug.

Later that morning, as my hangover was lifting, we convened in the hotel garden for a last drink, before Val and Chris ran us all to the station in two car loads, where an elaborate series of farewell permutations ensued. But not before Val had invited the band to smell Galop d'Hermès on her, with its upbeat blend of quince, rose and leather, and given us all a generous stash of Austrian wafer biscuits. I chose the lemon ones, which proved to be a zingy taste sensation!

The journey back

At the airport, it took several attempts to progressively - and grudgingly - rationalise my luggage down to one bag. Sadly Easyjet, with whom I was returning, has not relaxed its carry on rules. At this point I took my knitting OFF the needles and entrusted them (along with the perfume Val had given me) to Caryne, who stowed it all in the merchandise case, which was going in the hold. We agreed that I would pick up the perfume in two months' time at the next gig I plan to attend, while Caryne would post the needles back to me sooner.

On the plane home...

And there was one last game I played with myself in a bid to prolong this all too mini-tour, namely I tried to see how long I could keep the stamp on the back of my hand from the Augsburg gig before it washed off. I promise I did continue to bathe in the normal way!...I just didn't attempt to actively remove the ink by scrubbing.

And I am pleased to report that the stamp lasted - or its faint vestiges certainly - till at least Tuesday... or could it even have been Wednesday?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Siblings and sibilants: Vero Profumo Naja review

So I caught up with Val the Cookie Queen in Germany at the weekend - of which more in my upcoming travel post...! We had a high old time, as it is impossible not to do in her company, and amongst the cornucopia of perfume samples and decants Val kindly gave me, I was thrilled to find a vial of Naja, the latest release from niche perfume house, Vero Profumo. Not to mention a coordinating promotional beer mat**. 

Without further ado, Val inducted me in the pronunciation of the name. For it is not to be confused with the German compound word 'Naja', which means many subtle variations on 'Well' and 'Okay', and where the 'j' is spoken like a 'y'. Rather it is an amalgam of the deep 'ah' in 'Nah' and the 'dg' in 'badger'. No, wait, it may be the soft 'je' of 'je t'aime'? I may need further tuition...!

One thing I did learn though was that Naja is a 'genus of venomous elapid snakes known as cobras'. As you can well imagine, I had to look up 'elapid' as well while I was about it, and it elapidly became clear that they are a family of snakes characterised by short fangs fixed in the front of the upper jaw. I commend readers to check out this Wikipedia entry on the many different kinds of fang...who knew there was so much to snake dentition?

Such was my excitement to try Naja that I managed to squeeze it into my hand luggage, while the rest of my scented swag went back to Gatwick in the checked bag containing the band merchandise - which is not as handy as it might look, as I flew back to Manchester. I figured I could defer my eagerness to try/use those perfumes for a couple of months till I see the gang again, while my curiosity to try Naja could be contained no longer.

In a (token) reciprocal gesture, I lobbed Val some Cadbury's Mini Eggs and Galaxy chocolate in a few of its surprisingly multifarious guises (focusing in particular on 'no-melt' varieties like Minstrels, in view of the balmy weather that was forecast). And even though I have form for giving Val a purse for this very purpose, I am of the view that the seasoned perfumista can never have too many receptacles for keeping perfume in, so I also gave her a 'snakeskin wallet', a twin nod to the new release and a lyric in one of Val's favourite songs by The Monochrome Set, 'Jet Set Junta', whose gig in Augsburg was the trigger for our meet up:

'Hiss, hiss goes the snakeskin wallet stuffed with Cruziero bills'

I did get as far as googling images of Cruziero banknotes, with a view to printing some off and popping them in the purse, but my desire for verisimilitude fell at the first hurdle when I remembered that I only have a black and white printer. Plus I had already gift wrapped the purse. The nod to Naja wasn't exactly spot on either, as the purse is described as 'anaconda'. They were clean out of Najas unfortunately, or I would have got Val a more on-message serpentine material. Then in a curious turn of events, the bass player in the band mentioned that he happens to own a whole python skin - though crucially not why - which he would happily have donated to Vero for promotional purposes at the Milan show, had the new scent been about non-venomous snakes with aglyphous teeth rather than our proteroglyphous fanged friends.

Source: Now Smell This 

Before slithering and meandering my way finally to my impressions of the scent itself - I know, I know, I am the oxbow lake of bloggers! - I must firstly say that there very nearly wasn't a post about Naja at all. Oh yes. For the morning after I got home, I could not find my sample, presumed knocked off the chest of drawers by Truffle and batted into oblivion. The most I might have been able to say would have been: "It rolls well." But then to my huge relief I found it nestling in a relatively cat proof tea light holder on my desk.

Snaky lakes ~ Source: Wikipedia

And in the spirit of full disclosure I feel I have to mention that I do not care for snakes. I am not quite as frightened of them as spiders, but not far off. Let's just say that I didn't linger in Liz Moores' snake room longer than it took to clock that they were safely tucked away in drawers - and liked a drop of beer. My uneasiness around snakes pales into comparison, however, besides my father's outright phobia, of which I may have inherited a diluted version. He couldn't bear to see any representation of a snake, never mind the real thing. Even the sight of my brother's knitted toy snake - adventurously known as 'Snakey' - would instil 'horror and terror of the first water' (in himself this time). My mother knitted Snakey (who must be knocking on for 55 now?) for my brother, possibly before she knew of Father's phobia - or maybe out of sheer mischief - we may never know...

Photo by my SIL, Hazel 

And I mention Snakey specifically because he is a quintessentiial toy from my childhood, even though he was owned by my brother. Asp a toy - ooh, a Freudian typo, I might leave that in! - Snakey is a woolly oxymoron of 'cuddly reptile', and it is very much this vibe which Naja embodies. It is warm and enveloping, thick and faintly fuzzy, like a blanket made of khaki serge. Take the splayed flat head of a cobra and stretch it out further and further till it wraps completely around you, like those automatic toilet doors on the trains that are also a big part of my gig related travels. Coincidentally, in view of the tie in with Val, the teddy on the right in the picture below is actually called 'Austrian' - purchased by my parents in Innsbruck. Of the two, I'd say Snakey has worn better.

Photo by my SIL, Hazel

Texturally Naja reminds me of the drydown of Puredistance White, though not its smell. And also of Rozy Voile d'Extrait, to pick a scent analogy closer to home. Or - on account of the peachy/apricot facet - a harmonious SL Daim Blond, say - for Daim Blond sadly leant towards raspy on me until the far drydown, prompting me to liken it to 'suede-scented white noise'.

Notes: osmanthus absolute, tobacco, linden blossom and melon

On first application, Naja goes straight to the tobacco-forward basenotes on my skin. At this point it has a lot of heft, and I even wondered if it might be one of those 'contemplative heavy hitters' like Papillon Perfumes' Anubis. I get an intense and pleasantly powdery cloud of tobacco for a while - which brings back a whoosh of memories of defiantly smoky music venues in Germany - boasting every kind of smoke indeed, including the more underground / wacky baccy ilk....;) 

Then gradually Naja begins its stately backward trajectory, and shafts of fruit poke through the mist, tantalisingly unidentifiable to my nose, but reminiscent of faintly sherbety and sweet confectionery from my youth. Yes, just add newspapers and Naja neatly covers the full spectrum of the CTN on the corner of Belmont Church Road. We could perhaps call it: 'Confectionery Tobacco Naja'. I am thinking Pez sweets maybe, or fruit salad chews*, and I do get a hint of lime - and maybe of melon - at one point, but the wafts come and go like shooting stars, and I never trust my nose at the best of times. Melonphobics have nothing to fear from Naja, I will say that. The inclusion of that note helps to lift the tobacco and create a feeling of airy expansiveness within the composition.

Heart over our heads courtesy of Val

Gradually the balance between the heavier tobacco and the lighter, more radiant fruit swings more towards the latter and the drydown is sunny and winsome, while never losing its gravitas and smoky mystique - which is a pretty nifty conjuring trick, to be fair. That said, the tobacco remains the dominant note on my skin all the way through. It is of course also possible that I have tobacco amplifying skin! 

Now Mito Voile d'Extrait was my favourite up to now from Vero's line, but I can see Naja giving it a run for its money. I like it so much that I even succumbed to the insidious obsidian appeal of its opaque bottle. ;)

So there you have it - Naja: a cobra to cosy up with in beguiling black livery; a disarming charmer; and most impressively - considering that at this point I had not even sniffed it - the beating scented heart of an 'epic' weekend (as Val might say) with dear friends.

In a word - atramendous...

Last drink at the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis

* Editor's note: See also my exchange with Lady Jane Grey in the comments below

**Editor's note: Val has just explained that the beer mat is in fact a scent strip for spraying Naja on - so there's another shape to add to my blog post on perfume blotters if I could ever find it again!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Bonkers is off on an extreme multi-tasking weekend, including a meet up with Val the Cookie Queen!

I am afraid I haven't managed to do my usual weekly (or thereabouts) post this week. I am working on two projects at the moment, involving evenings, early starts, and some fancy mental footwork trying to remember what job I am on every time I pick up the phone. When I do eventually knock off, my brain is completely addled, and I am not up to much more than a distracted scroll through Facebook and a hastily prepared 'fusion cuisine' meal fashioned from the dwindling contents of my fridge.

There will be posts - also on perfume! - coming along once I have got this flurry of work out of the way in a week or two, if not before. I plan to review SJP Stash, Mon Guerlain - that surprised you! - and a few other things, as well as finally compile my bathroom refurb post, now that the finishing touch of a picture is back from the framer's and on the wall.

And meanwhile, I am off on Friday (don't tell Truffle!) to Germany for an extreme multi-tasking weekend, as all my holidays tend - and for budgetary reasons, need - to be these days. It will combine language practice (which I could almost elevate to the status of Continuing Professional Development, even if in practice I am mostly inquiring about platform information and the feasibility of fresh milk for my tea), AND my twin interests of music and perfume. The specifics of the former may readily be guessed, while the latter will be embodied in the human dynamo, fellow blogger, and one-woman gourmet cookie factory that is Val CQ Sperrer(!). Despite not being long back from her action-packed trip to Milan, Val is heading north to Bavaria on Saturday with downhill biking maniac husband, 'no fear' Chris, to meet me for a gig by The Monochrome Set in Augsburg. She being arguably one of only a handful of people in the known world who are diehard fumeheads and fans of that somewhat eclectic band.

The planning of the trip, meanwhile, has not been without incident. I have established, for example, that while Manchester Airport security have absolutely no problems with me taking knitting on a flight out of the country (cue more multi-tasking!), Munich Airport security take a very dim view of my wishing to take it home again. Knitting needles - or Stricknadeln, as they are known over there - are stricktly verboten on account of their non-negotiable status as 'pointy objects' and terrorist weapons. I must say I have never heard tell of a 'in air' terrorist attack involving knitting needles, but I guess there is always a first time. I mean, 'yarn bombing' is already a well-established pursuit, also in Germany...;)

In vain did I try to reason on the phone with the officious official from the Sicherheitsgesellschaft am Flughafen München mbH, and big up the innocuous character of my particular wooden needles: I was firmly told that the material of said needles was...ahem...immaterial. I would have been allowed to take needles measuring a maximum of 6cm on the flight, but you wouldn't be able to knit a scarf on implements of quite such Lilliputian proportions. Even one of those narrow, spivvy Mod ties favoured by Paul Weller would be a stretch, quite literally indeed.

I'll be just as happy to see her this time! 

So there you have it. I will of course report back on the events of the weekend as soon as work permits. And on the day that Britain started the process of leaving the EU - though as I said on Facebook, I had rather hoped Mrs May would trigger Area 51 by mistake - I found a way to ensure the 'free movement' of my latest woolly project (for a nominal fee)...of which more later. that was a sort of a post after all!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Lemmings and lemons reprised: a current capsule collection of 20 'desert island' scents

Every once in a while, I fantasise about having a smaller, more 'curated' collection of perfume bottles, instead of the sprawling, multi-plastic tub-, box- and drawer-filling monster it has in fact become, even though I hardly ever buy full bottles of perfume anymore. Such a notion remains a fantasy though, as I only managed to lose a few bottles in a recent two pronged sales push on here and on a Facebook selling and swap site. One of these bottles of course famously came straight back to me due to its missing top notes! Well, we are all getting on, my perfume included, and the ageing process is so gradual that you sometimes don't notice slight changes in your own appearance or that of your stash. So I may have to accept that however carefully I have looked after them - regular readers will remember the fridge years ;) - the potential to sell more bottles from my wardrobe aged 5 years and over, as most are, is probably limited.

So instead I thought I would just play a game with myself - as I did nearly exactly three years ago, it turns out! - to pick my Top 20 Desert Island Perfumes at the moment. A compact capsule collection, if you will, to last me until the next time I change my mind, as surely I will. Yes, I thought it would be interesting to compare the results of this latest exercise with my previous list, though this time round my focus has been as much on the possible ways to go about such a selection, and which methods I ended up choosing, as my fragrance choices in themselves.

I have just had a quick look back at my previous post to see which MO I used there: in 2014 the first phase of the process was to get all my bottles out and stare long and hard at them, then make a list of the perfumes I would actually buy again. I came up with 19 out of 70(!). Then I scratched my head and asked myself: 'Which perfumes do I wish I had bought instead?' and came up with a further 16. And promptly had to knock five off the first list to come up with a final (and somewhat luxurious, it now seems to me) tally of 30. Helped by the fact that I am probably in even more of a plateau phase of my hobby, three years on - assuming it is possible to have plateaus of varying degrees of flatness - I am going to limit myself this time to a whoppingly whittled 20.

There are some scarf albatrosses in there also.

So without further ado here are the MOs I used/considered:

The burning building speed grab method

Otherwise known as: 'Which perfume bottles would you save if you only had minutes to leave a burning building?' (You may rescue up to 20, and it doesn't matter if you don't own them in the first place.) By dint of including imaginary bottles, this is in effect a cunning fusion of the two methods I used in 2014. And is more or less what I did this time, namely, I took a sheet of blank paper and tried to come up with my top 20 perfumes in a spontaneous and fairly speedy brain dump. So that pretty much is it, and I could almost stop the post right here, except that I did go on to refine my selection by partially dabbling in other methods along the way...

The systematic review of ALL perfumes owned, including samples, to determine favourites

This goes beyond Phase 1 of the actual method used last time, and in 2017 fell at the first fence. I couldn't be bothered to even open the cupboard to look at a couple of boxes of full bottles, never mind my decant drawer and seven bulging bags of samples. I took all these photos after writing my post! So by setting the bar too high, I was quickly paralysed by inertia, preferring to rely on a much more knee jerk MO of what I could remember I liked off the top of my head. As a result, I may well have forgotten some major loves. Even though as a market researcher, I always maintain that unprompted beats prompted recall every time, so I may have been unduly swayed by my professional principles here. ;)

The travel bag 'nuclear precedent' method

Ex-Mr Bonkers used to worry about falling sick and a dep taking his place in one of the many bands he played in, on the premise that the last man to do a gig is likely to get the call next time. So by the same token, it could be argued that whatever scents are in my 'grab and go' travel bag - a variant on the burning building concept you might say - are ones that I have enjoyed wearing recently and which might equally serve as a capsule wardrobe 'going forward' (did I really say that, even in inverted commas? - shoot me now!). But I wasn't buying that argument and didn't even look in the bag, firmly believing I should cast the net of my mind more widely, notwithstanding its wide mesh (and the associated big holes of my recall).

The fragrance family method

I entertained this briefly, noting that there was nothing on my list that resembled a citrus cologne, and promptly dismissed it. Why should I have to include colognes or chypres for the sake of some vague impulse of deference to Michael Edwards? I mean wheely? And maybe some of them ARE chypres, you never know. I obviously wasn't going to take the time to find out, though it might have been quite revealing. I know in my heart that I am ineluctably and primarily drawn to wistful powdery orientals, sultry florals with a twist, and the odd soft leather, and if that means I end up doing the fragrance selection equivalent of buying 25 pinky nude lipsticks and nary a one in that orangey red that would also suit me, so be it. Or buying the same shirt in every colourway, as I observed last time.

My complete 'winter collection' against a backdrop of snowy duvet!

The scents for all seasons method

Now this is an MO I did toy with, and in the direction of which I do in fact partly nod, though not so slavishly as to segment my picks by all four seasons. I just kept a vague eye on whether I had wintery orientals and ambers in the mix as well as some summery florals - that could equally be springlike if we don't confine that season merely to scents with notes of hyacinth, daffodil and narcissus. I do actually keep both my full bottles and samples in bags for 'winter' and 'summer', so this split is clearly meaningful for me.

My complete summer collection' against a backdrop of blue blanket sky!

The scents for all occasions method

As I work from home, if I work at all, and the 'holidays' I take tend to be going on tour with The Monochrome Set and loitering on station platforms rather than lazing on sun loungers, I am more or less immune to the classic 'occasion-based' perfume wardrobe categories along the lines of 'office appropriate', 'beachy', 'kicking back on a Saturday in a crisp white shirt and jeans', 'dolled up to the nines for a Christmas party straight out of Love Actually' etc. I pretty much have 'sitting in the bedroom I use as a home office', 'going to Lidl', 'visiting my elderly friend', and 'going to gigs' scents - I shall resist adding 'poking round garages and hedges looking for the cat' scents, in the hope that those episodes are not to be repeated. So as you can imagine, this method barely flitted into my mind before flitting right out again.

The covering all my favourite notes method

Well, I entertained this one for a millisecond and it went straight onto the 'too hard' pile. There are so many notes I like, that to achieve a balanced collection where they are all represented with no undue weighting towards one or another would need the mindset of an investment manager balancing a portfolio of cash, gilts, property, bonds, bellwether tracker funds, slightly riskier ones in emerging markets, and a punt on the Health Lottery. I did vaguely notice along the way that certain fragrances had rose or lily or ylang ylang in - and I know I like those - but if I am picking scents I like overall in the first place you would think I must be homing in on my favourite notes, even if only at a subliminal level.

The scents I had happy times in method

Now this one was quite appealing, but I tried to resist picking scents this way, confining myself to a selection based on a perfume's intrinsic appeal rather than experiential association. It is theoretically possible to have a brilliant time wearing a very mediocre scent, which then gets uprated just because it happened to be in the right place at the right time. So I ditched that as an MO, though I will say there are a handful of scents in my shortlist whose wearing does bring back happy memories, but which made the cut largely on their own merits.

The 'inclusive' perfume house / perfumer approach (I am a bit 'method'-ed out at this point)

This started out as a casual (retrospective) consideration of whether I had at least one scent each from Chanel and Guerlain in my shortlist (I do!) - just because they are behemoths, no more that that - and segued into musings on whether I should consciously include the work of indie perfumers I admire and/or like as individuals (whether I have met them or not - this exercise is getting more and more abstract :) ). But I decided that despite certain personal leanings, that shouldn't influence my fragrance choices, and concentrated solely on the perfumes, regardless of provenance. I have to say that there would be a slew of such scents bubbling under the top 20, but I have been very strict, sadly.

The Bois de Jasmin seal of approval approach!

Now at this point the plot thickens and takes an unusual turn...with my 20 perfumes more or less in the imaginary bag, I was googling the note lists at the end of Victoria's reviews of some of them on Bois de Jasmin - I know, I  know, I cracked a little bit about the notes! - and realised in passing that the first few perfumes I looked up were (quite fortuitously) either rated by her as four - or even five stars. So I immediately stopped paying any attention to the notes(!) and started googling reviews of my shortlist purely from a star point of view, to see how consistently my selection lined up with Victoria's seal of approval. And it transpired that all of the scents on my list had either been awarded four or five stars or were not featured at all, which may or may not be significant. I am sure I have seen three star reviews on BDJ, and I hope I haven't picked a mix of her favourites and a bunch of other ones she rates too poorly to feature, being as diplomatic by nature as she is erudite, dainty, and winsomely immersed in the culture of her native Ukraine.

So there you have it...a list completely conjured up out of nowhere, with a few backward glances at other selection approaches, which slightly influenced the outcome round the margins.

Drum roll...please feel free to heckle at me, with pained cries of: 'But hey, you forgot xxxx!' (Not least the accents, I know...)

Am splitting my list loosely into 'wintery' and 'summery', which is not to say I wouldn't break those rules too, obviously.

Wintery scents

Guerlain Attrape-Coeur
Chanel Bois des Iles
Caron Parfum Sacre
Hermes Doblis
Tom Ford Private Blend Fleur de Chine
Ormonde Jayne Ta'if
Parfumerie Generale Brulure de Rose
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Cimabue
Flower by Kenzo Oriental
Christian Dior Ambre Nuit
House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved**
Prada Candy

Summery scents 

Annick Goutal Songes
Ann Gerard Perle de Mousse
Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle Carnal Flower
Mona di Orio Tubereuse
Serge Lutens Un Lys
Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess
ELDO Fils de Dieu, du Riz, et des Agrumes
En Voyage Perfumes Zelda

**NB This was very nearly Aroma M Geisha Noire, and may yet flipflop to that some day.

And how many of these do I actually own? Er....four! (See top photo.) I did own Brulure de Rose, but it is all gone. Not that there is much left of three of the four fragrances in question. And I must still have 50-60 bottles in my collection in total, some of them inveterate albatrosses. The most distressing of these have been relegated to the cupboard under the stairs or a special plastic bucket dedicated to 'aspirational sales'.

I would love to know if you have had a go at compiling your own top 20 scents lately, and if so, whether it was a struggle, and what made the cut. In the light of people's comments, I could be mightily tempted to do mine all over again!

Hmm, yes, that is yet another possible selection MO, come to think of it:

'The what do my fellow perfumistas rate' method

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Guardian angel: how Truffle - and my stress levels - went through the (curate's garage) roof (twice!)

Source: Ebay
Back in January, at the height of the bathroom leaks and 'Crack-ageddon', I distinctly remember avoiding any further testing of the samples Mandy Aftel had sent me, including Vanilla Smoke and Amber Tapestry, for fear of imprinting them with bad memories. In an exchange after the event, Mandy agreed that "aromas get tinged with memory in both good and bad ways and are almost impossible to disentangle", adding that she appreciated my careful approach.

Now that is all very well if you happen to know in advance that you are going to have a bad day, but sometimes the crises - like my cracks when they first kicked off - come at you out of nowhere. By this time you may already be wearing your chosen SOTD, which, perforce, becomes caught up in the 'horror and terror of the first water' (to borrow my father's phrase) that subsequently unfolds.

Which is something that so easily could have happened with a bunch of Puredistance scents the other day. I was testing four of them at once to determine my favourite, progressively narrowing the field over the course of the weekend to WHITE and SHEIDUNA. (I am still struggling with the whole capitalisation issue, though writing the word 'capitalisation' in lower case is helping a bit.) And in a final wrist-to-wrist play off, my overall favourite emerged, as...but I will save that titbit for later. ;)

So yes, last Thursday I was engrossed in the fairly thankless business of cleaning windows. Oh my word, what a rich seam for a blog post window cleaning techniques that actually work would be. In my desperation, I tried Mr Muscle, vinegar, and an E-cloth and water - sometimes all on the same window, endlessly rotated until the smears looked marginally less noticeable through half closed eyes and with the roller blind pulled down a few inches - and am now that sad soldier who is actually lusting after a Karcher Vac. But the point about the window cleaning is that I was somewhat distracted, though on and off during the day I had wondered why Truffle had not come back in since breakfast...It was mild weather, so I tried to convince myself she had just wandered a bit further and was enjoying herself in the uncharacteristic sunshine, even though I knew deep down that that wasn't her usual MO.

Truffle on the roof of the shed next to the garage....

First thing the next morning, 24 hours after Truffle had been gone, and following a completely sleepless night, I could no longer think of her as merely being 'out', and reported her as missing to the vet, an animal search charity that also had some useful online tips, and the insurance company - just in case you have to notify a missing pet the way I had to get a crime reference number off the police that time my luggage was stolen(!).

I also downloaded a 'lost cat' poster template, and was faffing about trying to resize photos when a friend messaged me from a train - having seen my Facebook status about Truffle's disappearance - and kindly offered to do the artwork for a poster. I explained that I was in fact nearly there with that, but he was able to combine two photos and make them fit the template, so his intervention was most timely. Not that I needed the posters in the end, as you will see!

Next up, I did some reading on the Interwebs, and learnt that for an 'outdoor access' cat like Truffle, the most likely outcome was that she had become trapped, probably within a short distance from home. The site recommended conducting an 'aggressive physical search' of her primary territory, comprising a five-house radius. It so happens that I am adjacent not only to five houses, but also to 33 lock up garages(!). I had already been round these a couple of times, calling Truffle's name and trying to listen out for any sound, which was tricky, given the ambient traffic noise.

View from the neighbour's garden

Then on a third circuit later that morning, I was passing the garage nearest to my house, which belongs to people in the next street, when I heard a cat crying. I also felt a paw underneath the garage door, though a short while after, the crying stopped and the paw was withdrawn. I still had proof that a cat was in there, even if it didn't turn out to be mine....

BUT I didn't know who the owners of the house were, so I loitered in that street for a few minutes and chanced upon a man unloading his shopping. I asked him if he knew the names / jobs / routines of the home owners. He told me that the wife was a part-time curate at the local church, so I jogged over there at the double, disturbed the vicar's wife, who was in bed, ill!, but gamely staggered downstairs because I had kept knocking. She texted the curate, asking her to ring me, and staggered back to bed, though not before letting slip that the curate's husband was a GP in the next county. And that the couple mostly lived there, only occasionally coming to Stafford.

Well ventilated garage of doom

There was no response from the curate, and of course I was frantic by now, as Truffle had been shut in the garage for nearly 30 hours already with no food and water. I know animals can survive for much longer, but obviously you don't want your pet to suffer for a moment, never mind a day and a half. So I promptly googled all the GP surgeries in and around the town the vicar's wife had mentioned, and found a doctor with a surname matching the curate's. Bingo! I rang the surgery, only to be told it was his day off. I asked the receptionist to try to reach him on his mobile and explain the urgency of the situation.

And thus it was that two hours later, the husband duly arrived and opened up the garage. Even on those odd times the couple come to Stafford, they hardly ever use it apparently! Moments before, my friend, Jim - he of the fine quips in my shortlisted entry for the 2015 Jasmine Awards - had turned up unprompted with a length of rope and a general air of reassurance. I stood outside to catch the cat if she ran out, and it was Jim who found Truffle cowering in a corner - collarless, filthy, frightened, and smelling of 'old stuff in garages' and p*ss. And no, that isn't 'puss', though she was back to her normal smell after a few (self-administered) washes. ;)

This is so going on her next collar...

That evening, I went round to thank the vicar's wife and the man who had been unloading his shopping, both of whom had given me such crucial pieces of information that led to Truffle's successful release. Well, I put a card through the door of The Rectory, knowing the wife was poorly, and the following morning, had a hand delivered letter back from her!

"I'm so pleased that you got your cat back. You wouldn't know how much your thank you card meant. I was feeling low after being in bed for the majority of the day. My husband came and gave me your card. It made me smile."

Oh, I don't feel so bad for getting her out of bed now. ;) Plus it sounds as though she is on her feet again. Unless the vicar played postman?

Then on the vet's advice I kept Truffle more or less indoors over the weekend, just letting her out briefly and under my watchful eye, but by Sunday she was feeling a lot more adventurous and events took another disastrous turn.

Source: Pixabay appears that while dogs have a short term memory span of five minutes, cats have a whopping 16 hours! But I am afraid that is nowhere near enough. For notwithstanding her earlier ordeal, Truffle managed to fall in the hole all over again! Even though I had already spent an hour supervising her outdoor access without incident, suddenly she leapt up onto the garden wall, and from there it was a mere hop, skip and a jump to the garage with the holey roof. Down which she promptly fell. The roof is made of full asbestos(!) and is really friable and crumbly as you will see, but I am running ahead of myself.

As the hideous and distinctly Groundhog Day-ish news sank in, one of the lodgers who lives next door (I'll call him 'L' - not his real initial  ;) ), and who happened to be loitering in the service road, offered to take a look at the hole. 'I'm only small', he said, 'I could probably get down there' - which despite his slight physique I privately thought unlikely. In a flash, L had shinned up the ladder like a rat up a drainpipe, and before he could get anywhere near the hole, he suddenly created a much bigger one of his own...' I've done that, I might as well go and get the cat?' he volunteered, with an uneasy smile. A second later there was a sickening thud as L jumped to the concrete floor some six foot or so below. He promptly opened the garage door before I could tell him not to and Truffle shot under it like the proverbial bat out of hell! Luckily, she darted back home while the pair of us set about clearing up the bits of asbestos on the floor.

Sun glinting on the polythene sheet

In vain did I try to persuade L to use gloves like me. 'I'm 45, I've had a good innings', he said phlegmatically. Well, I for one would like to live long enough to see Truffle wear out / lose the three replacement collars I had just bought her. ;) Oh, make that four, as I later found the one she lost under a tree. Anyway, after sweeping up the debris, L and I managed to do our own rather nifty roofing job, though I say it myself, involving 'found' things from my own garage - two bits of board from picture frames, a huge piece of plastic groundsheet folded in half, and my old airing cupboard door to weight the whole lot down! I had kept it because it was too big to fit in my car to take to the tip - never thinking it might actually come in handy one day.

Our improvised roof covering in place, I rang the owners to confess what we had done, lump in throat. Luckily they weren't at all mad at us for technically trespassing and damaging their property, and have said that this second incident - which is fast turning into that lost parent business in The Importance of Being Earnest(!) - will galvanise them to get the roof fixed properly as a priority.

So there you have it. In the space of four days, Truffle and I lost at least two lives apiece, and I also learnt that herding cats is an utterly doomed venture. And was also touched by the tremendous support I received on- and offline from concerned friends, as well as the community spirit on the ground that led to both the happy outcomes.

Home Sweet Home

Now I had carried on testing the Puredistance samples meanwhile - well, applying them at least, and occasionally remembering to sniff them. I figured that if they had been tainted by Truffle's first fall through the roof, that feeling wasn't going to get any worse from this point on, besides which, she had been repeatedly rescued!, neatly cancelling out the bad associations from before.

And unexpectedly, Truffle and I seem to have a much closer bond now, I would say - or I do to her at least. Presumably she has no memory of either incident by now, hehe. She has slept on my bed for a total of five nights so far, without spending half of it jumping on my head, as happened the last few times we attempted - and quickly aborted - a 'co-sleeping' arrangement. If she continues to be so well behaved, we might even be able to entertain this cosy regime on a more regular footing.

Then Monday was happily uneventful...Truffle went in and out of the garden unsupervised numerous times, and I have almost stopped worrying that she won't come back...

Oh, and the favourite Puredistance? - the one that really 'went the distance' during this strange r*****coaster of a long weekend, and which not only came out the other side unscathed, but had the power to subliminally comfort and shore up my fragile mood? It was that creamy, fruity, at times discordant, yet mesmerisingly fizzy amber and myrrh-fest that is - SHEIDUNA.

PS Proper perfume posting resumes shortly...