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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Halcyon hyacinths, and New Year musings on not being amusing

My cousin's husband (long dead now) used to be the cartoonist for a magazine beloved of the country set, 'Horse & Hound'. I remember how, just before a heart bypass operation, John worked overtime, stockpiling cartoons for when he came out of hospital. 'You see', he explained: 'even if everything goes okay, I don't suppose I shall be feeling madly funny for a while.' By inference, he didn't feel he could submit a cartoon to the magazine if it wasn't amusing, which got me thinking about my own 'house style' on Bonkers. And yes, it struck me that while you, as the reader, may visit the blog for all sorts of reasons, I mostly write with the aim at least of entertaining. And I have been slow getting round to this post, as I haven't felt 'madly funny' myself this week, far from it. But unlike my cousin, I have no posts put by for just such an occasion / frame of mind. T S Eliot famously described April as 'the cruellest month', but January 2015 hasn't been overly kind to put it mildly, and I have felt correspondingly downcast. There's something about living alone that makes bad things happening in the world impinge more, and (to stay with our cartoon theme) I found the Charlie Hebdo business last week very distressing, to the point where I barely slept for two nights in the immediate aftermath. The shock of the Paris attacks was compounded by the sad loss on Friday of one of our perfume community, Tama Blough. Although on the cards, her eventual passing came sooner than expected, just two months into her prognosis of six. One small piece of good news is that Buster, Tama's cat, has already found - and moved to - a new 'forever home' nearby. I was nearly considered as a potential owner myself, but only because one of Tama's friends mistakenly thought I was in Connecticut. ;)



I know my own problems - difficulties sleeping, an ongoing lack of work, an expensive repair on the car - pale into insignificance compared with recent events, but the combination of weariness, worry and gloomy news has made me greet the New Year with less of that 'shiny new diary' gung-ho spirit to which I am usually as prone as the next man. But I thought I would have a go at a bit of a 2014 review or New Year stock take, call it what you will. It may be odd, mind, and not especially perfume-forward, I warn you...;)

New launches and hiding under a rock

To jump start my look back at the past year in perfume terms - and spurred on by Undina's traditional analysis of how many scents she tested in 2014, by which brands, and how many of them were new releases etc - I fetched out my perfume diary and started flicking through. Here I had faithfully documented what I wore each day. It was clear that I was sometimes testing several things, or partly wearing familiar scents and partly testing new ones. I soon got bogged down, however, on realising that I didn't know if I was in fact testing or wearing a given scent, ie I simply couldn't remember what I already knew. Nor could I distinguish the perfumes released last year from ones from previous years, though all that could have been ascertained with a bit of digging around, had I really cared.

Evidently also a drinking diary

As I continued to flick through, it was clear that not many of the perfumes tested had made much of an impression on me, which is consistent with Undina's own low success rate in such sessions. And significantly, most of any testing I have done was invariably prompted by samples sent to me spontaneously by companies or received as extras in swaps, rather than burning lemmings I have tracked down, though there were a few of those too. The thing is - and I am a little ashamed to say it - nowadays I can quite happily go to an event at Les Senteurs or wherever and hardly sniff anything. I will also walk right through Duty Frees at airports, barely taking in what is new, despite prominent displays specifically designed to intercept the captive traveller with time on their hands. These days I am so lazy and 'not bovvered' in fact, that I can't even manage to put the proper accents in some of the perfumes listed below.

Scented discoveries (from 2014 or otherwise)

One key exception to this tuning out to new - or newish - launches is Tauer's PHI Une Rose de Kandahar from 2013, of which Val of APJ gave me a precious vial in February, and which turned out to be a lemming of the highest order. If I had to pick my top perfume discovery of last year, that would be it, albeit I tried so little in the grand scheme of things that it is not as great an accolade as it might be coming from bloggers who have explored many more new offerings on the market. Penhaligon's Tralala would be the worthy runner up.


My one *new* bottle purchase of the year (Lidl excepted)

In terms of other new perfume loves that are not necessarily year-specific, Estee Lauder's Bronze Goddess and Hermes Eau des Merveilles are two key ones to cite, along with Guerlain Attrape-Coeur and Shalimar Extrait, Ann Gerard Perle de Mousse, Vero Profumo Mito Voile d'Extrait and Extrait, Farmacia SS Annunziata Vaniglia del Madagascar, Chanel Coromandel, Annick Goutal Songes and Black Flower Mexican Vanilla from the Dame Perfumery in Scottsdale. (Thanks to Undina, Lila das Gupta, Tara of OT, Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery and Blacknall Allen of aperfumeblog for the above!). I also had an unexpected rapprochement with Chanel No 5, on discovering that Lidl's latest dupe of a mainstream scent had fallen far of the mark. And there are doubtless a few others that will occur to me presently.

It's more about the people than ever before 

Yup, 2014 has resoundingly shown me that I am more interested than ever in talking to people at fragrance events and meet ups, rather than taking this unparalleled opportunity to test the many perfumes all around us. For I have formed deep and rewarding friendships with a number of perfumistas, some of which have escalated to the next level: visiting them in their homes, and even staying the night in a couple of instances - hospitality I would be glad to reciprocate. ;)

Russian doll-reflected perfumistas

I am belatedly bonkers about skincare

Readers may well have noticed a number of 'beauty posts' creeping into the blog lately, and though I feel my recent waves of frenetic research have run their course for now - not least because I can't afford to buy anything else! - I think that to be purely practical about it, good skincare products are more necessary for me at this time of my life than the next lovely perfume. After all, I already have umpty dozen scents to choose from, and something that smells good is an embellishment at the end of the day - albeit a mood-enhancing and transformative one. Skincare, meanwhile, can address actual physical problems like my pesky chronic acne and the damage from decades of kamikaze sunbathing, as well as setting you on course to arrest or at least slightly mitigate the ageing process. I'm 55 after all - it's not too late exactly to take corrective action, but oh, how I wish I had started a sensible regime thirty years ago...

My redeployed cutlery drainer

Slowing down and easing up

I have talked about the principle of 'slow blogging' in previous 'stock taking' posts, and am still convinced of its merits. Additionally, a change I would like to make this year is to slow down in terms of my electronic life generally: 'engaging' with fewer blogs perhaps, and focusing on the ones with whom I have a personal connection, checking emails less frequently throughout the day and taking longer to reply to them, to avoid what I shall elaborately - and possibly impenetrably - call 'Groundhog Day ping pong syndrome'. Then I hope to spend less time on Facebook, where I am mercilessly teased for one thing, and which is the most terrible vortex at the best of times, even though I do like interacting with people that way. But it's a time-sucking curate's egg all right, not to mince metaphors about it. I am also trying to wind down before bedtime, which means resisting the urge to go online in the last hour or so of the evening, as the blue light emitted by electronic devices, coupled with the general mental stimulation entailed, is almost certainly a key factor in my inability to get to - and stay - asleep. That and my middle-aged bladder, of course.

Look, no phone!

To this end I am also trying mindfulness, or rather a somewhat simplifed version known as 'McMindfulness'. When practised last thing at night, it morphs into the equally snappily named 'beditation'. Interestingly, a psychologist writing for The Guardian urges people to have ONLY these three New Year's resolutions and to ditch the rest:

1) Take up meditation
2) Stop doing something (ie the opposite of the usual injunction to take up a new sport, hobby etc, but rather to find something in your life - whether a person or activity or goal or state of mind which is unhelpful / too hard / consuming of time and emotional energy etc - and drop it.
3) Go easy on yourself in reference to 1) and 2), or more widely!

Therapeutic Tara

'Consider the hyacinths...'

Right, so that is not exactly how the Biblical quotation goes, but I am sure the sentiment transfers across species. For I must say that in all my low level agitation so far this month, I have found a lot of solace and a calming quality in a potted hyacinth a friend gave me for Christmas. It is going over now, with brown bits starting to colonise its white tendrils, but every time I walk into the kitchen I sniff it, and the flower's sweet narcotic scent seems so restful and somehow so sufficient unto itself, just like the non-spinning lilies of the New Testament. Which is not to say that I am poised to abandon manmade perfumes any time soon - not at all - but it was a nice object lesson in the simple pleasures of life, including scented ones. Which, if the work situation doesn't improve, may take on a greater importance by and by.

Anyway, as warned, that was an odd 'round up' post, but I hope to be back next time with something a touch more lighthearted - and squarely perfume-related. Oh okay, that might be pushing it...;)

Has your New Year got off to a more upbeat start, or have you felt a bit weighed down with the cares of the world, or your own?


Liz Moores - a pint-sized tonic who punches above her height!










Tuesday, 6 January 2015

New Year, Old Me!: beating the Delta Blues, plus pea-sized ponderings

A petit pois, would you believe! ~ Source: fr.academic.ru
Well, it's Twelfth Night, and the decorations are finally down. The Christmas tree didn't go easily, I might add. For I managed to smear the sofa again(!) in unidentified black organic matter as I staggered round the room with it, for all the world as though I were attempting some over-ambitious caber tossing stunt - minus the actual tossing. Except in the sense of throwing the tree out, I mean. Then as late as last night there was one final and spectacular festive malfunction, when I spilt a quarter pint of warm chicken dripping over the kitchen worktop, from where it promptly poured down the fridge door and onto the floor. That took some (neat Fairy Liquid-infused) mopping, I can tell you.

But this post is about skin - my skin, not the chicken's, though it was involved in the whole messy fiasco in a minor way. Yes, I wanted to recount more of my adventures as I explore the world of skincare - or indeed report on my dermatological adventures generally - for I appear to be at an age where my face is increasingly doing whatever the heck it likes in new and alarming ways, even as I make halting attempts to corral and tame it...

For example, I woke up on Sunday morning and instantly felt sick. Okay, I did finish off some rhubarb crumble at gone midnight while watching Breaking Bad, but it really wasn't that - it was more from shock than anything. For in the bathroom mirror I caught sight of the worst sleep creases ever - so much so that in my panic I was afraid they weren't sleep creases at all, but something rather more sinister and permanent. A deep latticework of grooves - nay, trenches - was etched all down one side of my face, from the edge of my eye to the jawline - I looked like the Nile Delta after a particularly bad drought. Okay, so the photo below is of the Colorado River Delta, but you get the idea.


Source: news. azpm.org

Now I have been experimenting with lots of different skincare products lately, so I wondered if the precise combo I wore to bed last night (an Olay Regenerist serum topped off with a Lidl Osiris anti-wrinkle cream) might have triggered an allergic response. But then logic kicked in and said that in that case the other side of my face would have been affected too.  Anyway, I googled the problem and tried the recommended techniques for making the lines go away - slapping my face to bring the circulation back, cold water, moisturiser, massage - even jumping up and down waving my arms in the air, haha. About an hour later, my face was back to normal, but it gave me a very bad turn. As I was making the bed later I noticed that the pillowcase looked suspiciously rumpled, so for once I must simply have slept soundly in one spot! As it happens, a fumie friend in Canada gave me a beautiful silk pillowcase for Christmas, designed to preclude these very instances of bedding-related facial engraving, but of course it would be on a pillow in the other room at the time.


My theory of an allergic reaction was not so daft though, as I am constantly switching between products, bringing new ones onstream, and trying them out in different permutations, even on different parts of my face. As I have mentioned in past posts about this quest to find my perfect skincare regime, it is a matter of constant trial and error to find what works for your own multi-faceted skin type (I am OSPW in Leslie Baumann's classification ie 'oily, sensitive, pigmented and wrinkled'). And you are of course supposed to persevere for about 4 weeks minimum with each thing you try before judging whether it has had a good effect or not - ideally longer. But at my age I haven't got enough time to give everything on the market that might be suitable for me a 4 week trial - in this or that combination to boot - for we are urged to layer different products on our skin for maximum effect, even if we stop short of the full 10-17 step Korean beauty regime. I might not emerge from this current testing phase till I am 70, by which time it really would be too late. 





And also, when you are using several products with anti-ageing and/or other nutrients in them, it is hard to disentangle where precisely the good benefit of any of them is coming from. Or even whether it is down to that present combination OR the cumulative effects of other past product trials finally bearing fruit. You know, like when you can't get the cork out of a bottle of cava, and then it comes out first time for the friend you pass it to in desperation, but only because you did all the leg work first. Well, you and the grippy tea towel you will also undoubtedly have used. So there is that conundrum - how do you really know something is working? Frankly, I am better at just telling you something feels nice and doesn't irritate my skin. I think if anything the bony bit at the top of my cheeks, just under the orbital eye area, is looking more cross-hatched lately. Maybe it is fed up having this kaleidoscope of new stuff slathered on it, and is protesting accordingly. And sometimes the combination of things I try does sting rather, and I lie in bed wondering to myself: 'Now is that good stinging or bad stinging?'


Which brings me to my other point....about portion control. I have always found it difficult to estimate how much of any given product to put on my face. I suppose with a classic moisturiser it doesn't matter - not so much as to look greasy, say - but with serums, which are super concentrated with an array of active ingredients, if you've chosen them well, a little goes a long way. I was dimly aware that a 'pea-sized' blob is the standard amount to apply, but this doesn't seem to go very far, and I don't think my head is unduly big. I could use a pea-sized amount on my eyes alone, indeed with the Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair eye serum I have, that is in fact the deal. So how can a pea-sized blob be sufficient for a much bigger area?



Source: tips.stayhealth.xyz

I consulted Tara of Olfactoria's Travels, who is shaping up to be a bit of a personal skincare guru to me at the moment - a role that gained further momentum when she acquired Sali Hughes' new book, Pretty Honest, for Christmas - and she told me to blend the blob in my palms and smooth the serum on that way. I had dimly heard of doing that too, but the one and only time I tried it the cream stayed mainly on my hands. So Tara suggested spreading the blob evenly across a few fingertips on each hand, and I must say that is working better. I still skimp on a few areas but I am not overusing it at least. I sense that potent things like serums could do you a mischief in excess, and historically I may well be guilty of that. And maybe I do have a big head after all. No, don't answer that. ;) Or....hold on... I could be using the wrong gauge of pea. After all, there are garden peas and petits pois for starters (see above).

But gradually, gradually, I am drawing up a list of products which I have rigorously qualified as all right for my skin in comfort terms, and most likely on balance to be beneficial. More than that I cannot say. Though whether I will stick with them long enough to find out is anyone's guess! I am with skincare a bit as I was at the start of my perfume hobby - there are so many formulations out there and I am fired up to try as many as possible - which of course from a financial point of view is a non-starter, as you can't 'buy samples' from an equivalent to Surrender to Chance, nor is there a swap scene on the same scale - for hygiene reasons, I imagine.


My latest discoveries (suitable for my oily to combination mature problem skin!)





Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum 


Can be used day or night, is very silky and easily absorbed. Highly recommended by Paula Begoun in Beautypedia. Mainly based on peptides as far as I can gather.


Clinique Superdefense SPF20


This I have yet to get my hands on, but it is a daytime eye cream with a good level of sunscreen yet gentle enough for use on the eye area - always a tricky combo. Again, it gets the highest rating on Beautypedia. I would of course rather they spelt Superdefence with a 'c' over here, but I will overlook that.


Paula's Choice Resist Anti-Aging Clear Skin Hydrator


This I have on order and it is going to serve as a night cream - and a daytime moisturiser if I remember to add sunscreen - it seems that it could also safely go round my eyes. Here is the Beautypedia review, albeit you would expect it to be glowing!



Source: Paula's Choice

Then I am still using Resist Skin Transforming Multi-Correction Treatment, which is classed by Paula's Choice as a 'special product', and which goes on before the serum and/or moisturiser. I use that on my chin in particular, topped off by Effaclar Duo +, the Rolls-Royce of spot zapping gels. Now that I can say from experience, having used it for over a year now at a guess.

The other thing I have learnt from my reading is that oily skins may be able to get away with serum + sunscreen rather than moisturiser ie, I am vindicated in thinking that I find it unpleasant to layer as many products as someone with dry skin - the last application of moisturiser just sits there on my face like slush on a kerb.


Oh, and meanwhile, Tara is going to investigate another 'product of interest' from the Paula's Choice line and one by Indeed Labs, so it will be interesting to get her feedback on those, even if we have different skin types. I am also curious to try the La Roche-Posay Redermic R Tara is very struck on, when I feel ready to jump back into the retinol fray. The ROC equivalent - supposedly for sensitive skins - was one of the creams that stung on me, though as I say my portion control may well have been off. And they do say no pain no gain..?





Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Further festive falling things and Christmas crises, plus an Excite-ing Lynx discovery!

Well, it isn't long since the tree felling and Fille en Aiguilles spilling incidents, yet I have managed to clock up a slew of additional mishaps - enough to warrant this 'festive malfunction' sequel post.

Though 'crises' may be overstating it for some of the things that didn't go to plan. Like the fact that I was too late to catch the particular brand of mince pies that came top in a Good Housekeeping tasting test, for example (Iceland, if you're curious - they are apparently 'astonishing'-ly good). But the substitutes I picked up on Christmas Eve from Sainsbury's served perfectly well in the end.

Other incidents had wider repercussions, like accidentally putting an egg in vegan stuffing I made for a friend, who was giving me some spare nut roast in return. Actually, it turns out that her two sons are currently merely vegetarian, however, it had quite slipped my mind that my friend herself is allergic to egg, so she ended up having to make her own stuffing. I have since made it up to her in parsnip and apple soup.

I also did that annoying thing - which in fairness can happen at any time of year - of going to the supermarket without the '£4 off when you spend £20 or more in store' voucher, only to go and spend £20.08. So of course I had to go back specially on the last day of the coupon's validity to spend another £20 and get my discount. Which in practice, to comfortably qualify, only needed to be a bottle of Olay Regenerist serum and one of dry white.

Back up curry that was not actually needed in the end

The Christmas meal itself - for my two dinner guests, Clare and her Man City Santa-hatted husband Tony - went like clockwork. Or a clock that is running a bit slow, say. For they arrived at 6pm and I didn't plate up the turkey and trimmings till 9.30pm. Though in that time my friends had enjoyed a pretty substantial starter (did they sense what was (not) to come? ;-) ) supplemented by an emergency saucer of something that had already cooked, to take the edge off their returning hunger. The problem was the parsnips, which for space reasons were late going into the oven, and then took forever to go golden. The turkey, meanwhile, had long since come out, and was relaxing on the worktop under a blanket of foil. It was so relaxed in fact that it was fast asleep, only to be rudely awakened by the jab of a carving knife (which Tony - who had stepped up to help me at this point - candidly declared to be 'a bit blunt'). I must say those parsnips look remarkably nonchalant in the photo, despite having massively held up proceedings.

There really is some gravy on there...

Also during the meal preparations, I managed to bang the back of my hand on the edge of the utility door and burn my finger, which swelled and throbbed for a day or so afterwards. But the main malfunction by far was my unerring knack of knocking glasses over. Or do I mean 'erring'? Anyway, it proved to be a comical leitmotiv of the evening. The first full glass (of champagne) went over the edge of the table, triggering a four handed flurry of floor mopping over quite an extensive area. The second full glass I sent flying prompted the complete removal of the gold tablecloth, which was absolutely soaked in red wine, and in turn started to drip down onto the same section of newly mopped floor. I swear I wasn't drunk or anything - why, I had knocked over most of the available alcohol, apart from anything! - it was just that there were a lot of hidden table mats under the cloth, making for different levels and an accident waiting to happen, basically. By the end of the night we were all agreed that it wasn't so much a table as a mezzanine. Then within minutes of my guests leaving I had spilt half a can of Diet Coke and rescued two tea cups that were perched at a very perilous angle. To be honest it was a minor miracle they didn't also hit the deck.

After a promising start, it all ended up on the floor.

My lack of a dishwasher could also be construed as a malfunction, as I washed up afterwards for two days straight...though that acquisition will have to wait until I revamp the kitchen one day. I was, however, comforted by the realisation that, contrary to what I think every time I open my utensil drawer, you can in fact never have too many spatulas.



So what perfume did I wear on Christmas Day, you may be wondering? Well, I did toy with putting on Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess, you know, to help the turkey along - it also has a hint of myrrh, even if it might not be seasonally appropriate in any other sense - but I went in the end with Bois des Iles, by way of a thank you to my generous donors, Val and Tara.

The other notable perfume-related thing to tell you about the holidays is that I sniffed a friend at a party the other night and was very taken with the discreet woody oriental scent he was wearing. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I learnt it was Lynx Excite of all things! Further research on the Interwebs confirms my impression that Excite is punching above its weight. The men on Basenotes also give it a thumbs up. I was certainly impressed at the olfactory gentrification of this hitherto cheap and cheerful 'yoof' range. Excite (just based on my hazy recall of my friend's neck) reminded me a little of a lighter version of L'Occitane's Eau des Baux, which I encountered in Germany earlier this year. The perfumer is Ann Gottlieb and this is all I could find by way of description - on Amazon!:

"This sophisticated scent starts with a clean and fresh leafy green accord, then develops to smoother, caramel based notes and finishes with woody base notes, laced with amber and vanilla." 


Source: lynxeffect.com

So on that surprising note, it just remains to thank Bonkers readers everywhere for your interest and support in 2014, and to wish everyone a very Happy New Year! A special thanks is due to follower No 168 (Sarah), who recently replaced one I lost the other day for reasons I will probably never know. I have said it before, but I can't over-emphasise how nice it is to see the avatar of a new follower pop up in my side bar. As I understand it, you still have to consciously follow a Blogger blog to be counted amongst its official audience, so I do appreciate people taking that extra step.

Clare & Santa-Tony, a born again Man City fan who almost matches the sofa





Saturday, 20 December 2014

Dropping pine needle perfumes and other festive malfunctions

The countdown to Christmas has begun. Well, strictly speaking - as far as the retailers are concerned anyway - it started some time in October, if not before, but I have definitely entered my pre-Christmas 'Oh, my goodness, I missed the last posting date for second class cards and I haven't wrapped anything and will all the chestnuts be sold out already?' headless chicken - I mean turkey - phase. And every year there is a new challenge involving the festive bird, as I always think there is a perfect cooking method still out there that is just beyond my grasp. The other day ex-Mr Bonkers inquired jovially: 'So is it going to be the Nigella brined or the tented foil Delia method - or some bet-hedging combination of the two, more like?' He has vivid memories of one Christmas morning where I additionally spent a frantic half hour googling which way round the legs of the turkey should point in the oven. I have in fact abandoned whole turkeys in recent years, gravitating towards the more manageably sized crown joints. But even though last year's bird was succulently successful, there will as ever be a twist this year, namely that I plan to use a probe thermometer to check the turkey's temperature. So I have been busy googling where to insert the thermometer I have yet to buy, given that there are no legs and the traditional spot of between leg and breast is not an option.

Time to get the shiny Roja Dove coffee table book out

But Christmas is about far more varied and numerous malfunctions than just the turkey. The mishaps kicked off last Sunday in fact - it took six hours from sallying forth with my friend Gillie in search of a tree for each of us to switching the lights on mine and declaring it decorated. For having brought my tree home, I quickly established that the trunk was too fat and knobbly to fit into the stand I already had. I attacked the trunk with a toy saw, then an axe, but to no avail. So I went collecting rocks on the allotments and put them in a silver pail, which I thought would serve as well. It didn't, and the tree toppled over, 'felling' me in the process, and smearing greenish mud on my sofa. I dabbed the offending patch with damp kitchen roll, which seems to have fetched the worst off. Then I went out and bought another, wider stand, and things started to pick up from there.

The next day, however, I was experimenting with a string of fairy lights in the hall, when I knocked my bicycle over, gouging out a small piece of the wood panelling under the stairs, just a few mm to the left of the previous gouging wound from an identical bike-knocking incident last year. The bike has now been banished in disgrace to the corridor behind the kitchen.


Oh, and my pretty Chanel Christmas card that was the last present to me from ex-Mr Bonkers appears to have lost some of its dangly charms. ;(

But some good things have happened as well this week, relating to perfume and Christmas, you will be pleased to hear. Even a fragrance-related accident proved to be a happy one. For yesterday I spilt a vial of Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles on the mantlepiece.


Luckily, it didn't attack the paintwork as I feared, just leaving a slight shadow of a stain. This in turn gave me the bright idea of smearing the puddle of Fille en Aiguilles on a small wooden tree ornament Gillie had recently given me - as in one shaped like a tree, not intended to go on the tree - and now it smells wonderfully piney and aromatic, a bit like your better class of sauna.

Out of the blue this week I also received a medallion-shaped tree ornament from Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays, perfumed with a trio of scents: frankincense, myrrh and citrus.


It looks uncannily like a ceramic Love Heart for anyone familiar with that nostalgic confectionery line - well, you can still get them, actually. I have a tube in my handbag indeed.



And in addition to the 'bridging decant' Tara slipped me at the Les Senteurs event I attended the other week, I have now received two further atomisers of Bois des Iles from Val the Cookie Queen. I know I mentioned that I had run out in an earlier post, but it genuinely wasn't a sneaky way of 'crowdsourcing' some top up supplies, honest! But now I have supplies all the same, and am very grateful to both.




Oh  look, I have just noticed the sticker on the back of one of the vials, keeping our heart theme going...;)

As this is probably my last post before Christmas, I would like to take the opportunity of wishing readers near and far a very Happy Christmas-stroke-Holidays-stroke-Bah Humbug let's just go for a curry! (as per linked post below). I hope all your perfume gifts - should you receive any - are what you wanted. For further reading on this theme, here is a link to my post from four years ago for Cafleurebon on the subject of Christmas present giving and attitudes to the festive season generally.

In that article I note that I include a 'gravy separator' as one of my worst ever gifts. How times change! Why, a gravy separator is on my current Christmas list. So what the heck did I do with the one I already had...? ;)



Sunday, 14 December 2014

An amewsing game of aroma-counselling 'tag': review of The Scent of Possibility by Sarah McCartney

I did a quick tot up today and I have in fact written reviews of seven perfume-themed books on Bonkers. SEVEN! I promise that that's as much a surprise to me as it is to you - I would have guessed about four tops. Maybe I am being influenced by a recent downgrade of the designation of these posts from 'review' to 'bitesized not quite reviews', which was the case for the last two: 'The Rottweiler' by Ruth Rendell because there was next to no perfume in the book(!), and 'Chanel: An Intimate Life' by Lisa Chaney, because I couldn't even finish the blessed thing. Though I guess you could say that - assuming I have an average attention span - my failure is as indicative as anything of the book's readability. But yes, it turns out that there were five proper, full length book reviews prior to that.

And here is review No 8, of a novel which was both fragrance-forward and finished fairly fast by me. That said, my review may not be appreciably longer than bitesized, for the simple reason that I couldn't figure out how to say too much about The Scent of Possibility without it acting as a spoiler. But here goes...

Sarah McCartney, as regular readers will doubtless know, is the quirky and colourful owner of 4160 Tuesdays, who has been acclaimed as one of the up-and-coming stars on the perfume scene. She was recently dubbed - in a superb article on the UK's artisan scent industry in Management Today - as a 'punk perfumer', and I have previously featured three of her creations on the blog: Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers (the scent which spurred my friend Clare on in her charity bike ride) and Tart's Knicker Drawer & Doe in the Snow, following Sarah and her husband Nick's visit to Bonkers Towers in the summer.

Sarah and Nick at a Les Senteurs event this week

Without further ado, here is the blurb from the back of the book, to give you a little taster:

'Down a cobbled mews off one of London's rare tranquil rare tranquil backstreets, people come to talk, gaze at the garden, have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, then leave with a small blue bottle of perfume. Captured inside it is a scented memory of happy times.

What could be the harm in that?

London is a big city, but paths cross, and get all tangled up. A small misunderstanding leads to a seriously large one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is the novel that accidentally launched a London perfumery, 4160 Tuesdays.'

The Scent of Possibility is divided into lots of short chapters, devoted to - and toggling amongst - the various characters. All of whom sooner or later fetch up at the office - in a mews near Holborn - of a lady called Unity Cassel, who helps them solve their personal problems. The characters don't know this when they arrive, mind...The trigger for their visit is being given a business card with an appointment on it by someone (usually known to them) who has already been, found their own session helpful, and decided that the other person could do with Unity's services more than them, prompting them to pass their card along. I can best describe it as a game of aroma-counselling 'tag', for as well as having a cathartic heart-to-heart with Unity  - plus high calibre refreshments! - each 'client' takes away a little bottle of perfume which she carefully selects for them. Each bottle captures in olfactory form a past memory of a happy occasion that is specific / personal to them, the idea being that the scent will simultaneously comfort and galvanise them into tackling their issues head on.

Pied Bull Court / Galen Place ~ Source: mouseprice.com

The fun in the book, which is very cleverly plotted, is that the stories turn out to be far more intertwined than the reader at first imagines...and that is about as much as I can say about that without really giving the card and the game away!

So instead, I will say that I devoured The Scent of Possibility in a week, which is the sign of a seriously engrossing read. Timewise only Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty has come close. I can't stress enough that this is a truly remarkable feat, because in the past year I have only managed to read a derisory seven books in total, which equates to a laughably slow rate of about seven weeks for each. So to finish Sarah's book in a fraction of that time or less is accolade indeed.

The other thing I appreciated about The Scent of Possibility is its easy-going, naturalistic style. Sarah has a sure touch in conveying the 'voice' of each of her characters, so for example, Jessica, who is a schoolgirl, speaks in a breathy stream of consciousnessness blurt, with minimal punctuation. I am pleased to report that Sarah doesn't pepper Jessica's internal conversations with 'like' or 'you know' every few words, to which young people seem inordinately prone.

The characterisations themselves are economically and deftly drawn, for example when Phoebe describes a man she was going out with as being handsome in 'that dark, Celtic, smouldery way'. Elsewhere, she mocks her own appearance in trainers, comparing herself to 'those American women in the last century who came over to the City and went to work in tea-coloured tights, Burberry macks and big hair, with a pair of bright white Reeboks at the bottom, to make them look like they worked hard and played hard and all that rubbish.'

Five of the scents featured in the book are from the current range

Oh, and a quick word on grammar: Sarah loves the semi-colon, and though I haven't conducted a poll as such, I am pretty sure she favours its use over the dash by quite some margin. The semi-colon is a bit of an endangered species in modern usage - and is even considered archaic in some quarters - so I rather warmed to that touch, says she, without actually using one...;)

There is also a fair bit of gentle humour and wry observations of life's foibles, together with some pretty helpful relationship advice along the way. I could very easily imagine Suzi Godson of The Times coming up with the same diagnoses of these familiar - and familial - problems.  Yes, the book is part agony aunt column, part perfume consultation-stroke-aromatherapy session, and part soap opera-cum-thriller. In short, The Scent of Possibility has something for everyone...except a shedload of dashes, obviously. Though it does have a shed.


NB In the spirit of full disclosure, I bought my own copy of The Scent of Possibility - that's it in Sarah's hand, in fact! - before or after she autographed it for me.





Monday, 8 December 2014

The Lidl effect: Woman Suddenly falls for Chanel No 5 again - and doffs bed socks

The time has come to mention the unconventional boyfriend again, the one who described my eyes - most imaginatively I thought - as the colour of 'foetid puddles', and my legs as 'serviceable'. It was 30 years ago, but I still remember a few salient facts about our relationship. The eight year age gap meant that when I popped a Sade cassette into his car stereo on a long drive north, he inquired brightly: 'Is that Wham?' And after I had my wisdom teeth out, my face was so beaten up that he walked right through the ward without recognising me and out of the hospital again, assuming he had got the wrong one. He also broke into my mother's house once, and left a bottle of port on her kitchen table to thank her for visiting him in hospital. Well, I use the term 'broke' loosely - my mum had accidentally left a window open, apparently. And he gave me some good presents in the course of our four year relationship: a little wooden trinket box, a Barbour jacket, and a copy of the controversial book 'Queer' by William Burroughs. On the flyleaf was this facetious inscription:

'Some in-flight reading. I chose it in 5 minutes. One glance says "this book cannot possibly be dull". And so I hope it proves. In any case, reactions of fellow passengers will offer a secondary source of entertainment.'

Oh, and most importantly he also gave me Chanel No 5. I sense it may have been as snappy a purchase as the book, but it was only the second bottle of perfume I had ever been given, and I was very excited to receive it - to my twenty-something self it seemed the last word in luxury and glamour. I remember the bottle as a sleek, black rectangular column like the one in the photo below, but have no idea if that marks it out as the edt or edp. I wore No 5 happily on nights out, but only as a 'civilian', to reprise Tara's great word for a regular member of the perfume-wearing public, in her comment on my Suddenly Woman 1 post. I don't know whether I finished the bottle or what happened to it, but my interest in this iconic fragrance quietly lapsed, such that when I was smitten by perfume mania seven years ago, my attitude to No 5 was regrettably cavalier - very much one of 'Been there, sniffed that'. Until Lidl came along and launched a smell-alike, that is...

Source: eBay

But before elaborating on the effect of Suddenly Woman 1 on my current perfume-wearing MO and beyond, I thought it might be interesting to do a quick summary of my takes on the previous launches, going right back to 2009:

SUDDENLY FLEURS - I only vaguely remember this - as a sweetish floral that didn't particularly remind me of any other mainstream perfumes on the market. Maybe Lidl hadn't got its act into gear at this point and it wasn't a deliberate dupe of anything. If anyone remembers Suddenly Fleurs and has an idea of what it might be imitating, do let us know in the comments.

SUDDENLY D'OR - a very decent copy of Ghost Luminous, not that I am a mad fan of the Ghost range generally.

SUDDENLY MADAME GLAMOUR - a superb copy of Coco Mademoiselle. I wouldn't bother with the real thing, although I can tell the difference - the Chanel does have more depth - and more patchouli. Suddenly Madame Glamour is sufficient for me, should I ever wish to scratch a Coco Mademoiselle itch. I probably won't though, as it is so darn ubiquitous these days. I would guess Coco Madeomoiselle has overtaken No 5 itself in popularity by now, amongst all age groups too. Certainly on a 'whiffs caught in passing basis', if not in sales terms necessarily.

SUDDENLY DIAMONDS - another very close copy, of BOSS Orange this time, though as with Suddenly d'Or above, I am not a fan of the original, so wouldn't buy either.

SUDDENLY WOMAN 1 - the least similar copy to date imho - of Chanel No 5. For the very first time, the Lidl version has made me want to own actual Chanel No 5(!), and indeed I have now inherited a nearly used bottle from my friend Clare, and also invested in a 3 ml roll on-on Ebay for the princely sum of £6.99.



Coincidentally, the other day I saw an article that explained how people sleep better with fewer bed- and night-clothes on - something to do with optimum core temperatures versus that of your extremities. The article recommended sleeping naked if at all possible, or at the very least swapping bed socks for a hot water bottle, as the latter can be kicked away if you get overheated. The timing of this piece with my Suddenly Woman 1 and No 5 trials seems most fortuitous - indeed the post even mentions that well-known titbit about how Marilyn Monroe was reputed to go to bed in the nude, save for a comforting cloud of Chanel No 5.

We are in the middle of a cold snap here in Britain, so I don't think I could possibly countenance sleeping in the buff. But now that I have re-bonded so unexpectedly with this famous fragrance, I will seriously consider wearing a nocturnal spritz and losing my bed socks, especially if they go the way of the last pair any time soon...








Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Lidl Suddenly Woman 1 review: the fifth women's scent from the discount chain is no No 5

For some years now I have been a big champion of the own brand range of perfumes from European discount chain, Lidl. I have followed the releases with interest, from Suddenly d'Or and Suddenly Fleurs through Suddenly Madame Glamour to Suddenly Diamonds - respectively very creditable dupes of Ghost Luminous, Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle and BOSS Orange. Not forgetting the men's scent, G Bellini X-Bolt, which is a fine imitation of Hugo BOSS Bottled.

In my Suddenly Diamonds post I expressed disappointment that Lidl had gone from copying the iconic Coco Mademoiselle to a fairly middle of the road BOSS perfume, instead of going for 'the big one', ie Chanel No 5. Along with the likes of Guerlain Mitsouko and Shalimar, No 5 is regarded as one of the leviathans of the perfume scene. And thanks to a tip off from an anonymous reader I learnt that the store had now taken on Goliath(!) and brought out Suddenly Woman 1, an apparent knock off of Chanel No 5... Well, it seems I had missed Suddenly Woman 1 in stores first time round, for it had already been and gone by the time I caught up with the news. However, the same reader kindly alerted me to the relaunch on 27th November, carefully scheduled to catch the run up to Christmas.

So I hotfooted it down to my local store the other day, where there is currently an offer on of two for £7 as opposed to the usual price of £3.99 each for 50ml. And assuming I would be as impressed as I have been up to now with the other scents in the Lidl stable, I bagged a couple of bottles, thinking I might give the other one away to a friend who loves Chanel No 5, and fancies something inexpensive she can splash around during the day.

It took me a few minutes to find the product, mind, as Lidl seems to have a habit of initially showcasing its perfume releases in a prominent spot nowhere near the toiletries aisle. I was about to beard an assistant about why they weren't stocking Woman 1 though it was comfortably after 27th November when I stumbled upon a display right next to some condiments and cruets. But of course!



Before getting into the scent itself, a word about the packaging. Like No 5, the box is monochrome and pretty classy-looking - with added silver edging. The bottle is the best yet - a pleasing rectangular yet elliptical shape, with a thick glass base and chunky black top. I could believe the packaging is worth £3.50 on its own, and to think it might not be makes you realise how big a profit margin is built into some high end scents.

But as for how Suddenly Woman 1 smells, that is where it all begins to unravel. I first tested it blind against actual Chanel No 5 edp on a friend in the next street whose cat I feed. She is a completely 'normal' member of the public (ie not a raging perfumista like me and many Bonkers readers). My friend owns a few bottles (eg Shalimar, Gucci Envy) but isn't nuts about scent as such. Anyway, she immediately spotted which was No 5 and which the imitation. She described the Lidl scent as flat and monotone, like a 'single malt' (but not in a good way ie with the emphasis on 'single', or one-trick-ponyness!). The No 5 she said was multi-layered and fresher.

From my own subsequent trials I would add to that that No 5 was more floral, and more cleanly soapy - in a luxury milled soap sense - whereas Suddenly Woman 1 was sort of 'musty'. The aldehydes seemed rougher - less finely milled if you will! - and the base (to which the scent immediately defaulted) reminded me slightly of an Estee Lauder scent you don't see around much for very good reasons - Spellbound. I remember that one as a dark, spicy, sticky number, which Luca Turin dubbed 'medicinal treacle'. The base of Suddenly Woman 1 is nowhere near that bad, but it has an odd borderline 'off' character. I'd liken it to those 70s orientals (Lentheric Mystique is one that springs to mind) that have a challenging bottom end if you know what I mean - and which if you do come across them now, might not be in perfect nick either.

Source: fragrancedirect.co.uk

After an hour, Suddenly Woman 1 does mellow considerably, but there is simply not much going on on my skin by now other than a vague prickle of aldehydes and a faint murky undertow. No 5 meanwhile continues on its soapy way, less fizzy now, with more pure soap at this juncture. Suddenly Woman 1 was a bit brighter on my friend, so it is quite possible that YMMV.

That all said, Suddenly Woman 1 is arguably a perfectly good take on a retro style of perfume that just isn't to my taste. I would love people to try it to see what you DO think it smells like, especially during the crucial first hour. Something vintage, a bit spicy - maybe with moss?, musk? I really ain't sure - I am so bad at deconstructing scents that we need keener noses on the case. And when you think how complex the formulation of No 5 is said to be - for it is reputed to contain no fewer than 250 ingredients, of pretty high quality one may infer - it was always going to be a big ask to come up with a decent dupe in nice packaging for £3.99...

Source: fragrantica.com

One and a half hours in and Suddenly Woman 1 has lost all its bite and darkness and is just a gentle hum on my skin - nothing remotely objectionable about it now, but nor could I tell you what it smelt of at this point. It's soft, with this puzzling vintage vibe. I am not 'high fiv-ing' it, that's for sure. Or 'high No 5-ing' it, even. I do like my perfumes to smell actively pleasant long before this point. ;)

I tried to find some other views on Suddenly Woman 1 and at the time of writing I only came up with was this thread on Mumsnet - note that all the comments are favourable except one. That person got a terrible migraine from Woman 1 and thought it smelt ghastly. So I guess my experience of the opening is more aligned with hers. And as I say, if you are prepared to sit out the first hour or so, it is much more congenial, and as both the No 5 and the Lidl scent are more indistinct at this point, there is a greater resemblance from this point on, though I wouldn't overplay it.

Definitely something you have to try for yourself and make your own mind up, so for the sake of four quid, please don't be put off by my review, but buy a bottle if you can and come back and tell us how you got on.

I say, you don't suppose it could be a copy of Mitsouko, by any chance? Nah, surely not....;)

UPDATE!

Last night I was round at my mate Clare's, helping her retrospectively cost dog cakes, since you ask. She happens to own a used bottle of No 5 - a bit longer in the tooth than the sample I had been using as a control, but still very nice. I got her and her husband Tony to comment on how the Lidl scent smelt vs both the No 5s (on my wrists), and the findings were interesting: Tony thought the two scents were somewhat similar, but that Suddenly Woman 1 was 'sharper', as in spiky, and also a bit 'old lady'. Clare preferred the Lidl perfume, and promptly gave me her old bottle of No 5(!), partly as a reward for my financial services, but also because she rarely feels a yen to wear it these days.

I must also say that I was surprised to find that neither version of actual No 5 is anything like as fizzily aldehydic as I remembered (I owned it myself in the 80s). I really do think Suddenly Woman 1 will appeal too fans of vintage scents from the 70s - or earlier? And of course it may behave quite differently on other people's skin.