Friday, 22 June 2018

Penhaligon's Orange Blossom: a tale of perfume, friendship, and the longest journey

I am all too mindful that I am overdue to blog again, even allowing for my more relaxed posting schedule these days...well, if I ever had a schedule, which is moot. I have at least half a dozen post ideas in the pipeline, but I don't feel like writing any of them. The simple fact of the matter is that a close friend (whom I will call 'M', with this being a public forum) died on Saturday, and she is still very much on my mind. Despite the exceptionally personal nature of this post, I realised that it would help me to process her sad loss by talking about it here, just as I am doing in private conversations with friends. Otherwise it could be a long time before I feel able to revert to my usual blogging topics - and tone.

Any readers who follow me on Facebook may already be aware of my friend's passing. I will copy across my tribute to her, to set the scene, as it were.

"What's on my mind?, asks Facebook. That's an easy one. The death of my friend M at the weekend, taken by cancer sooner than any of us thought. I had known M for many years, in different houses, relationships, and hair colours - on both sides. She came for Christmas several times, and it is my great regret that I only mastered the art of cooking an edible turkey after she turned vegetarian. Maybe because of that(!), I will never know. She loved bright colours, plain speaking, and any cats which crossed her path. She favoured a particular type of mug, and a particular kind of tea. She was the life and soul of craft nights, and often turned up unprompted with the makings of supper. She was a force of nature with a beautiful voice, a big heart, and an indomitable spirit, which will always be very much with us."

And here is one which also struck a chord, from another good friend, who hosted the craft session pictured below:

"Remembering and missing this unique, bold, compassionate, crazy, courageous, creative and generous soul. Without M I would be the poorer for so many laughs, tears, insights, experiences, places and wonderful people. She made things happen and made an impact on everyone. Those ripples, the memories and the connections between us that exist because of her, cannot be erased and will carry on through all of us."

A particularly messy craft night!

The last time I saw my friend in her flat - too poorly to be on her own at home really, and indeed it was soon after that that she admitted herself to a hospice - we had a long chat, in which she asked me to tell her all about my news: 'I don't want to talk about being ill.' I had made the food she had asked for and put it away in the fridge and freezer, though as I did so I wondered whether she would ever manage to interact with it. After about 45 minutes, she declared herself too tired to talk anymore, and I took that as my cue to go. As I bent over to kiss her goodbye, she exclaimed: 'Oooh, you smell nice!" and I explained that it was Penhaligon's Orange Blossom.

The last time I saw my friend in life was last Friday, at the wonderful hospice in a neighbouring town. At Val the Cookie Queen's suggestion, I took along a bottle of sparkling fruit drink - fizz being more palatable than flat, Val said - and when M felt strong enough to sit up for a bit we shared a plastic cup or two of that. I set the bottle of Orange Blossom down on the table by her bed, saying that this was the perfume she had liked, and perhaps she could have a spritz on her bedding or sniff it on an amenable nurse. I didn't realise at the time, but in hindsight I think my aromatherapy ideas came a bit late to be acted on. Not long afterwards, the doctor made her round, and I stayed at M's request while they had a difficult and moving conversation about her palliative care arrangements. After about an hour and a half I left - the next visitor had already arrived.

That evening, I spent several hours ringing all the friends of M's I could think of, urging them to get on over to the hospice as a matter of urgency if they wished to see her. Quite a few had no idea how gravely ill she had become in such a short space of time. I also planned to visit M again on the Saturday morning, but it was the first visitor - one of the people I had contacted in my address book blitz - who arrived really early, and happened to be there at the end. I was sorry not to have made it myself, but far, far more important was the fact that somebody did. And the bottle of scent was in the room too, its little bow at a crazy skew-wiff angle like wings reaching skywards. I know that an inanimate object is a very poor substitute for human company, but I was strangely comforted by the thought that it had been by M's side in the night. Her last visitor had in fact puzzled over whose bottle it was, as M herself did not wear scent.

I did go back later that day, and noticed that the perfume bottle had gone, presumed tidied up by a nurse. Then last Wednesday it made a surprise reappearance. M's brother and SIL - who lived far away and like most of us, had been caught short by M's sudden passing - had invited a few close friends of M's to the flat to pick out one or two keepsakes from her belongings. A number of musicial instruments found homes, including a guitar, an accordion, a hammer dulcimer, a boran, and a tin whistle. One of the girls from our craft circle had M's sewing machine, another the Nutribullet, and various pot plants and soft toys were also safely and lovingly rehomed. I opted for some crockery, including a whimsical teapot, and a subset of M's enormous wool stash. We had even spoken on that last afternoon of a brand we both discovered we owned - M had asked which colours I had and told me hers. And now, a week on, the wool is here in my house...

M's cup, my saucer - a perfect match

On a side note, I would love this to happen when my time comes...the thought of friends giving a new life to some of my belongings is frankly heartwarming. I would feel as though - in a small way - a part of me was going on to be part of the fabric of their lives. And goodness knows I have a lot of perfume to give away! Which brings me back to the Orange Blossom. M's SIL suddenly produced it out of a bag and held it aloft, inquiring: 'Did somebody want this?' So I claimed it immediately, explaining that it was in fact mine, and that I would very much like to wear it to the funeral. A sunny, uplifting scent, to complement the brightly coloured clothes we know M would wish us to wear. Here is my review of the perfume for anyone who might be curious.

M is having a woodland burial in a plot near her home. She will be singing several of her own compositions at the service(!), very likely including this rather apt track, These Fields Again.

Rest in peace, M; thank you for the music - and in the words of another of your songs, consider yourself well and truly wrapped in 'invisible string', such that you will never 'float away'. Or maybe we should make that wool...?

Monday, 11 June 2018

A spritz up the backside (not literally!): perfume as personal trainer, and my hairy brush with the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon

Same hall, different class! ~ Source: SLogan Fitness
I have read a few blog posts on the theme of 'perfume for the gym/workout', which usually take a matter-of-fact line, as though we were merely talking about choosing a scent for an evening out or for the office, ie a perfectly normal activity. So although this post treats the same topic, I am coming at it from a different standpoint. Because the fact is, I hate exercise. There, I said it. Shoot and defriend me now if you must!

Hmm, not so fast...I should perhaps qualify that statement slightly. I dread the thought of doing exercise, I don't enjoy doing it at the time - unless we are talking a country walk, say, but I invariably can't be a**ed to drive to the country - but I just LOVE the feeling afterwards, whether it is the floaty one you get from yoga or a generalised rush of euphoria from jogging. For the most part though, the enjoyment of the aftermath doesn't weigh heavily enough in the equation to overrule the kiboshing effects of the before and during feelings on my healthy intentions. Which is not to say that exercise doesn't get done by me in fits and starts here and there - I am a great believer in 'incidental exercise' as well as what the lovely Doctor in the House calls 'movement snacking'. How great is that expression!?! Now I am well aware that this is not enough on its own and that we all need (increasingly so as you age) a judicious combination of exercise of each of the four types: Cardio, Strength, Flexibility and Balance. These are all so important I have gone and given them capitals.

Source: Aroma M Perfumes

I do attend a yoga class on a Saturday morning, though I must confess I missed the last five weeks(!), due to a compellingly plausible excuse combination of weekends away and bad ears. Astonishingly I made it back this Saturday and it wasn't nearly as impossible as I feared. And on a whim, I sprayed Aroma M's Geisha Vanilla Hinoki before heading out, though I don't normally wear perfume when exercising. It turns out that I reviewed this scent almost two years ago to the day, and when I put it on before yoga its calming, faintly fougere vibe of vanilla and lavender, coupled with the sprightly opening burst of bergamot and the grounding incense and patchouli accord had rather surprising effects. For I felt much more motivated about being in the class while I was there, and a little less reluctant to go in the first place! There is a term 'resistance training' which is the same as our 'Strength' category and includes weight lifting and the like. Me, I need training to stop me resisting resistance training!...or frankly any kind of training indeed. ;)

But yes, in my discreet cloud of Vanilla Hinoki, the difference in my mood was really quite marked. I have no idea whether it would work equally well with any perfume I liked, but I sense Vanilla Hinoki teams up particularly well with the zen-like state yoga induces. Of course all exercise is ultimately relaxing for the body - and mind - but this one really hit the spot, no question, and was elevated to the level of aromatherapy in a sporting context.

In a strange postscript to the above, this unexpected bout of exercise was followed the very next day by more physical jerks(!), most unusually for a Sunday. A knitting chum called Felicity had kindly invited me and another friend as her guests on a spa day at Hoar Cross Hall, of which she was a full-time member. Obviously I jumped at the chance to spend some quality time with the pair of them, while swanning around grand surroundings in a fluffy robe. 'Swan' being the operative word on account of the garment's whiteness. 

Ghostly robed figure disappearing down The Long Gallery

Unfortunately, the day that suited us all for this three-way meet up happened to coincide with the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon - one of several such extreme endurance events being held across the world yesterday. Many of the main - and even minor - roads in the county were to be closed till early afternoon, and planning an alternative route was strongly advised.

Source: Express & Star

The other friend who was joining us never made it sadly, having spent many hours going precisely nowhere, before finally being turned back by a policeman somewhere near Rugeley. She had only gone twelve miles from home in all that time. Her hugely frustrating experience showed that you really needed to use an OS and Ironman road closure map in tandem to have any hope of figuring out a route - there were so many conflicting diversion signs on the ground that you would be sure to be trapped in endless Kafkaesque loops, as she was. The council really hadn't thought through the impact of their diversion signs, which were so numerous, and which referred to so many different (unspecified) routes, as to be of absolutely no use whatsoever. 

I had called the race hotline and enlisted their help to plot a route, yet I still managed to have a highly hairy drive even so. The road the organisers recommended was also closed(!), though it was in fact passable at a crossing point - which I knew in principle, but suddenly doubted. After a fruitless twenty minutes being catapulted between diversion signs in Uttoxeter like a ball in a bagatelle, I decided to override the closed sign and see what gave(!). Sure enough, after a couple of miles the crossing place and two marshals with bollards hove into view - they doubtless wanted to discourage casual passing traffic. I suppose that otherwise they could have spent the entire race shifting bollards like demented lollipop men. At the same time it was a bit naughty, as I genuinely thought for a moment that I couldn't go the way they said after all, and might so easily have given up myself at that point.


Getting across the cyclists' path was just the start of it though! I also nearly killed a dog that chased, and then ran out in front of the car; several 4 x 4s ran me into a ditch, and I narrowly escaped being rammed by a tractor as tall as a house as it careered round a bend, driven by a child. These were hands down the narrowest roads I have ever driven up/down, and I was in constant fear of meeting someone. With good reason as it turned out.

And so between the white knuckle drive, the yoga class I attended at the spa when I finally got there (two classes in as many days, hehe), and the 60 lengths of the admittedly half length pool...why, I virtually did a triathlon myself! Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration...

This wasn't the pool I swam in.

And I am very much hoping that Vanilla Hinoki has given me the metaphorical 'spritz up the backside' I need to get me exercising more regularly. Time will tell, but it has certainly given me a leg up for now.

Ooh, speaking of legs up, I am sure that girl was in my yoga class. I don't think I am good enough at holding the poses, mind, to ever end up covered in lichen.

Monday, 4 June 2018

GDPR, Diptyque and me: do I finally get to leave Hotel California?

Source: Los Cabos guide
Firstly, apologies for the posting hiatus, which is mainly due to a pesky ongoing issue with blocked and infected ears. You really don't want to know the details, but my Britney Spears(!) are somewhat better at the moment than last week, and my brain less foggy and generally discombobulated, so I figured I was up to doing a blog post today.

So...the deadline for compliance with GDPR legislation has been and gone on what would have been my mother's 98th birthday. She isn't around anymore, but my aunt very much is, and turned 98 a few days ago! She is the granddaughter of the Salome Musson pictured at the top of my review of Papillon Perfumes Salome here. Gosh, that was a bit of a digression, sorry. Back to our legislative muttons. For anyone outside the EU, here is the lowdown:

"The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679 is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA)...The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU."

And of course we are not due to stay in the EU for much longer, but right now we still come under its jurisdiction, so businesses need to get with the programme. I mention it, because the tentacles of this legislation are quite far reaching, and I know of at least one perfume blogger who has added a 'plug in' - no not a Glade room freshener as was my first thought, but some kind of gadget that acts as a shortcut to her privacy policy...or I suppose that's what it does? I asked her why she thought to do that, and she explained that she has a list of subscribers to her blog and thought the legislation might cover the act of sending automatic notifications of posts to readers who had given their emails for that purpose before the law came into effect.

Then I found this helpful titbit on the website of a digital event marketing company(!):

"In simple terms, you need to get explicit permission from your EU email database to email them after the 25th of May 2018, once GDPR takes effect. The process of going to a list or email database to establish opt-ins is called ‘permission passing’."

"Permission passing", ooh er? Sounds a bit 'Derren Brown sleight of hand-ish' to me, but that may be my cynical mind...It is ringing a bell though, as I heard something about all this on You and Yours on R4, in which they featured an association of allotment holders, who found themselves improbably affected by the new rules. They had a database of members you see, and in order to be able to contact them about anything it seems, they needed their express, opt-in permission.

Allotments near my house ~ Source: wrmcomputers

All of which set me pondering, as I have done precisely nothing about the matter. Well, there's been my ears for one thing, says she defensively, then I also have no access to my subscriber base, ie readers who follow by email. I am not assuming they are necessarily the same people as the mosaic of followers in the sidebar of my blog, though maybe they are! But I don't know the emails of those people anyway, unless they have provided a link to some site of their own. So I am pretty sure I am off the hook, perhaps due to the very non-functionality of Blogger versus Wordpress, haha, of which I complain periodically on various grounds!

Then on a personal level, I have basically been ignoring the blizzard of emails from providers of every stripe asking me to 'accept cookies', 'update my preferences' and 'manage my privacy settings'. Life's too short to stuff mushrooms or manage my settings, though I may be being horribly shortsighted. If you have to explicitly opt in to allow them to contact you in future, and I am not deigning to reply, surely this means that the companies I have once had dealings with - often very tenuous or one off dealings - will have to go away now? Hmm, unless the emails are worded with what my old boss used to call 'an assumptive close', where the opt-in is assumed to be your default preference precisely IF you ignore the email! Oh, I don't know... I have just found the torrent of communications on this subject so wearing. I guess I could go and change my settings on a case-by-case basis if stuff keeps coming and really bothers me, as I did with Diptyque indeed...

Yes, you may remember this post from last September on the subject of Diptyque and their annoyingly frequent marketing emails. Boy, did they keep coming, despite my repeatedly clicking on the unsubscribe link, all to no avail. Then I finally found out why my endeavours were in vain:

"While the emails were coming to my correct address, the pop up asking me to confirm that I wanted my email to be removed from their list referred to an address that was not mine!

It was!! WTF??"

So seconds later, I dashed off an email to Diptyque's general address explaining what was going on, and asking them to additionally remove my blog address - flittersniffer at gmail dot com - for good measure. And that finally seems to have done the trick."

I should have gone back and updated that post really, because it didn't do the trick at all!! After a short delay while the company regrouped, the emails kept arriving as before. And then, in the run up to the GDPR deadline, I received two more in fairly quick succession, both along these rather wheedling lines!

Yes, I do mean to say goodbye! And how...;)

Which obviously I have also ignored.

And fingers crossed that it is an active opt-in scenario, not a 'we have sneaked your opt-in into a prepared statement that gives us your tacit consent even in the event of non-response' one.

How is GDPR affecting you - as a business or a punter - or a reader of perfume blogs indeed? 

Are you engaging with your settings, for example? You are a braver person than me in that case.

Never mind privacy ones, the vast majority of the settings on my phone, PC, TV and toaster are also a complete mystery, come to think of it...

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

When Smells and Sounds Collide: Meeting Geza Schoen in a surprise intersection of the Perfumer and Monochrome Sets

Source: Digital Bauhaus Summit 2017
I have long been an admirer of Geza Schoen and his work. He is one of those spendidly maverick perfumers, whose daring launch of the Molecule range based around a single aromachemical was a groundbreaking departure from the classic conventions of perfume construction. I am also a big fan of Ormonde Jayne, for whom it only latterly emerged that Geza Schoen was in fact the nose working alongside Linda Pilkington. Ormonde Jayne is the house with which I probably enjoy the highest 'strike rate' of any brand, as explained in this (rather preamble-y) post on the range's potential as a capsule scent wardrobe. Or I certainly did with the relatively compact offering prevailing then. I have rather lost track now of all the sub-collections they do, some with exotic back stories.

And then there is the fact that Geza Schoen famously 'scented' my home town of Belfast, after spending a couple of days wandering around inhaling the city's smells, an intriguing project I reported on here. And finally he lives in Berlin, a stone's throw (more or less) from the venue where The Monochrome Set often play when they come to the city, a venue in which Geza himself has given a perfume talk! I even wrote about that coincidence some four years ago in my account of the band's 2014 German tour, when the idea of meeting the man himself was not even a twinkle in my imagination, never mind my eye. It makes me smile to re-read that post, and see that I called the section in question: "Channelling Geza Schoen". This was because I had chosen Ta'if as my SOTE to wear to the gig, before I discovered the perfumer's links to the area and Monarch itself.

Monarch (upstairs) - in Geza's 'hood!!

"Wow, if I had known that Geza Schoen - to whom I feel a particular bond because he once scented my home city of Belfast - was a local, I would have spent longer hanging out in the falafel parlours on Skalitzer Strasse.  I did have a couscous in a tagine restaurant on Lausitzer Platz, and a mushroom pancake in a cafe on Oranienstrasse, but there was no sign of his distinctive rangy form in either eaterie."

Fast forward to 2018, and there has been a further twist in the tale, namely that I have made a little bit of progress in my quest to make the band adopt perfume on even a very occasional basis. For the singer has taken to wearing Ormonde Man as a stage scent every now and then, the nearest thing to having a perfume 'in rotation', as we fumeheads would say, though I don't wish to overplay it. ;) He was cheerfully unaware though of the increasingly organic connections between scent, venue and perfumer, but when I brought him up to speed, jokingly threw down the gauntlet to me with the challenge: 'Get him down the gig!'

Well, I know it was just a flip comment, but it wormed away in my mind for a while, until eventually a head of steam built up and I psyched myself up to message Geza (who, like so many people in the perfume industry whom I don't know in real life(!) is a friend on Facebook), explain all the connections that have curiously arisen between me/him/band/Kreuzberg/Belfast, and suggest meeting up before the gig for a drink and a chat about perfume. I added that he would be most welcome as a guest at the concert itself, only I had no idea what his taste in music was, such that a refusal would absolutely not offend!

And Geza wrote back in the affirmative - to meeting up for a drink initially - before later confirming that he would also like to attend the gig, and could he bring an English musician friend too?! Why, of course he could, and it further transpired that his friend knew of the band, liked their music, had one of their albums, and had commended them to Geza. All of this was starting to feel pleasantly surreal. I had been amazed in the past that fellow perfumistas had been fans of the music and/or up for coming along to gigs, but never would have imagined this particular intersection between my perfume and music worlds.

As he painstakingly wrote down the names of the guests on a piece of paper, Bid paused on Geza Schoen, remarking: 'That has to be an alias, surely?' Not at all, haha...

Source: Stadt Berlin ~ we sat on the lower terrace

So it was that at 8pm on the sunny Saturday in question, we met at a bar by the river just a hop and a skip away from Monarch, installing ourselves at a table on a terrace by the river. I drank beer and Geza had shandy, the German word for which I learnt was Alster, which is also the name of a lake in Hamburg, where the band had played the previous night. The venue's address was even 'Alstertor'. This was getting every so slightly weirder by the hour, though I am probably overly sensitive to Twilight Zone-y things. ;) After about 20 minutes or so were joined by Geza's friend, Paul - check out his own brand of electronic music here - and the conversation rightly shifted to more general topics.

Perfumewise, in the course of the evening we touched on Geza's training at Haarmann & Reiner - he was a contemporary there of Frank Voelkl, who went on to work with Firmenich. I had visited H & R myself on a study to do with fragrance ingredients (it was sadly just another chemicals job in those days!). I also explained my work connection to Kassel, Geza's home town (valves for the city's gas pipe network, since you ask ;) ), and inquired whether he wears perfume day-to-day much himself, or whether it is a bit like working in a chocolate factory. (Turns out it is!, although he is enjoying wearing a current mod featuring a ginger note.)

We talked a bit about the old synthetics vs naturals chestnut, and Geza was clear in his view that perfumes almost always benefit from a combination of the two. I asked him for his views on the 'skin chemistry' conundrum and he confirmed that it categorically is 'a thing'. He has a young daughter, and I was not surprised to learn that Geza is getting her to smell all manner of things from an early age, and confidently predict that she will go far in the business one day if she wants to! Then I surprised both Geza and his friend by saying that I had once blogged about the notion of being forced to wear the perfumes of only one house for ever, and whether that could actually put you off scent altogether. At the time - and it was many years ago, so possibly due for revisiting! - Jean-Paul Gaultier was the house that might have tipped me over the edge in that way. I was thinking of two feminine fragrances in particular: Classique and the plastic mac/bubble gum monstrosity that is Ma Dame. (Sorry, FK, whose work I normally enjoy, notably APOM pour Femme, but this was not for me.) Maybe there are more congenial scents in the line by now, but those two I found quite alarming.


I also brought up the topic of a project Geza had worked on with Wolfgang Georgsdorf, involving a fabulously off the wall olfactory organ called The Smeller. If you only check out one link in this post, may it be this one, as The Smeller is as hilarious as it is ingenious. Here is a taster...

'The Smeller is an electronic olfactory organ. It looks like an alien from behind, huge, with 64 writhing metal tubes. Each tube leads to a source-chamber with a single smell in it. You could put anything that has a smell in the source-chambers: an aroma-chemical, a flower, a dead fish. Wolfgang ‘plays’ these smells like someone playing the piano.'

Yet another music and scent crossover right there...!

Stage edge to drum kit is a perilous matter of inches!

And soon it was time to head to the gig, which was jam packed - or 'gerammelt voll', as they say over there. I explained that it is my wont (on account of 'tall German man at gigs' syndrome) to stand near the front if they didn't mind, and accordingly wiggled my way through the press of people to a vantage point near the stage. It was quite good that I did in fact, as the night was fraught with technical problems, and I ended up catching a light that fell on the floor and rolled under a speaker cab. The drum kit they had borrowed from the support band occupied a good two thirds of the stage area, which already seemed smaller than we remembered from last time. ;) The other band members were in constant danger of either falling off the edge of the stage themselves, or knocking off any movable items such as bass drum, mike or music stands. The mixing wasn't great in the opening few numbers either, and between all the technical mishaps, the heat, and the delayed start to the set, I was worried that Geza and Paul were not seeing the band at their best to put it mildly, and frankly wouldn't have been at all surprised not to find them still there at the end. But amazingly they were! And said that though the sound was iffy to start with, it had got better as the set went on, and they had enjoyed themselves despite these minor glitches that had seemed all too major to me.

Post-gig scene with perfume samples

Before he left, Geza kindly handed over a box of perfume samples from his Molecule and Escentric Molecule ranges and the Beautiful Mind Series - 'for the boys to sniff through'. The unorthodox method of their conveyance back to Britain will be covered in a companion post on the travel aspects of the trip, and a week later I divvied the samples up and formally distributed them to the band in little organza bags, with the following results...

So...Bid, one of the relatively more receptive members of the band, olfactorily speaking, accepted a set, ditto Jon, who if you recall had asked me to help him find a new perfume after the Edinburgh gig that fellow fumehead Crikey attended. Thanks to the collective suggestions from Bonkers readers, that project is ongoing, and now Jon has even more things to try! In an amusing turn up for the books, no sooner had I given him his haul when he was accosted in the smokers' garden of the pub where they were playing by a girl who said she worked at McDonald's, and could he give her something to mask the smell of frying oil?!! Then Andy the bass player asked if he could take them for his wife, who is Japanese, and wears scent, while he does not. And Mike the drummer said no thanks, he never wore the stuff, and neither did his girlfriend particularly, which means I have a set for reference, hurrah!

But even though he claimed not to be interested in perfume, Mike burst into the venue after the sound check, running around holding Molecule 03 aloft, the most singular of the whole selection, though it was doubtless pure chance he had picked that one out. He must have nicked it from Jon's stash...And thought it extremely odd too, saying it reminded him of fish and chips. Eh?? He sprayed it on the sound girl, who didn't know what to make of 03 either, but clearly did not mind the random aspect of being spritzed by a band member, and seemed happy to keep the sample as a souvenir - for the box at the very least, as I said to her. It is funny how Geza's perfumes are finding their way into the world in unexpected ways...

Now in due course I will try to elicit feedback on what the band made of their windfall, as I will on the complete bunch of samples I gave Jon. If anyone can 'scent' The Monochrome Set, as in encouraging them to wear more perfume, it would surely be a true original like Geza Schoen. Both he and band leader Bid (the initials of whose 'official' name are also GS, just saying ;) ) have a decidedly individualist and independent streak. They are free spirits who plough their own furrow and have turned their back on the mainstream. What's not to like about a man who, in an interview with Fragrantica, famously stated that if he hadn't been a perfumer he'd have been a 'really trendy lamp post' instead? And now - though I am still not sure that that really happened! - their paths have actually crossed...

I say, here is a pre-bagging collage of the band's samples - 10 scents x 4, except that one of the Escentric Molecules is missing (04).

I would rather like to think that was a deliberate omission on Geza's part, for I do like a curved ball...

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

"The Sex Robots Are Coming!" - but how do they smell?

A few weeks ago I watched a Channel 4 documentary on the future of sex robots.  It isn't even the first programme I have seen lately on this controversial topic, so if the sex robots are coming, so too are the programmes about them. It was compulsive yet deeply disturbing viewing, and even the young male presenter broke down after a tour of a Japanese factory mass producing these eerily lifelike dolls, partly because he spotted some models which looked alarmingly immature.

Without further ado though, I would like to qualify the expression 'eerily lifelike'. They are lifelike in the sense that they have come a long way from those inflatable dolls you would see casually slung over the shoulders of men on stag 'do's. Or male dolls similarly wielded like a trophy on female hen nights. These days they have flesh that gives way to the touch if you press it, including buttocks that are both firm and optimally squidgy (as opposed to 'runaway squidgy' in my own sorry case). Then the top of the range models have eyes that follow you round the room, a remarkable range of facial expressions and utterances (you really don't want to know about the utterances), and the ability to make conversation and even crack jokes. As they get to know you over time, they tuck away facts they have learnt about their owner and deploy these in later exchanges, just as a real girlfriend would.

But crucially they are NOT lifelike in so many other ways. For one thing they are preposterously sexualised, like a hyper-realistic porn star from their luxuriant tresses and sooty, hockey stick eyelashes down to their tapered scarlet fingertips. Always assuming you aren't curious enough to remove their wig and the back of their heads and reveal the extraordinary circuitry that lies within.

Secondly, at the risk of stating the obvious, sex robots still need a lot of work before they can interact conversationally - or emotionally - with the complex and nuanced responses of a real woman. (To be fair, there are also male dolls, but the bulk of the market is female at this point for reasons you may readily infer.)

Thirdly, they are not warm to the touch, like a living body, but at best have more of the sensation of a freshly dead person. (Though I am speculating somewhat here.)

Source: Kulture Klub ~ 'Harmony'

And fourthly, as a friend pointed out to me, crucially they do not smell!

Why did I, as a perfume blogger, not think of this significant drawback!? I think my friend meant they would not have a properly human smell, as opposed to silicone or whatever they are constructed of. I imagine the scent of their base materials might all be quite similar. And while you could spray the dolls with perfume, that doesn't help the underlying issue of not having an inherently human odour. Which got me thinking about the whole topic of the science of attraction and the role of pheromones and all that malarkey. I am very sketchy on the subject, but I do distinctly remember a sweaty T-shirt test, where women were divided into two groups: one was given an unworn T-shirt and an unwashed one that had been worn by their partner, and the other group was given an unworn T-shirt and an unwashed one belonging to a stranger! They were not told what type of shirt they were sniffing, and subjected to a maths test and a mock job interview afterwards to try to provoke a stress response. The study found that the women who received a T-shirt that had been worn by their partners, rather than strangers, had lower cortisol levels.

Well, well...the study concluded: "The findings could be used to help people cope with stressful situations when they are separated from loved ones", and went on to suggest that people take an item of their partner's clothing away on trips to lower their stress levels while travelling. ;) The full article may be found here.

I found all this rather interesting, not least because I am citing lack of natural odour as a reason why sex robots might be fundamentally flawed, yet I am simultaneously wracking my brains to remember what my exes actually smelt of. If they were in an identity line up with other men, and I had to sniff their chests blindfold, say, would I be able to pick them out? Hmm, the distribution of chest hair and other physical characteristics like build etc might be a clue, so they would probably need to wear T-shirts as well, to create a level playing field. Or maybe it would have to be just the T-shirts, as in the experiment.

The Flirtation by Eugene de Blaas

But my basic point remains. Do I know how anyone I have dated smelt at the time, never mind whether I would recognise their smell now? Did it play a role in our being attracted to each other? Frankly I have no idea. I would have said things like: 'They were a good listener' or 'they had kindly eyes' or 'they made me laugh', but what if their smell had also played a role in bringing us together? In my defence all these relationships predated my interest in perfume and scent generally, so I am allowed to be a little shaky on the olfactory front. But it has got me thinking certainly. Maybe the whole business of attraction is subliminal, but is still a 'thing'.

And as it happens I have very occasionally done what the researchers are suggesting people do when separated, or rather I have sniffed an item of their clothing when they went on a trip, not me. I felt a bit silly doing so, mind you, I'll be honest. And while the scent did seem familiar to my nose, could I have picked it out versus other worn T-shirts? I really ain't sure...! By the same token I am rubbish at identifying perfumes on people just by their smell. Unless it is blindingly obvious, like Angel or Coco Chanel.

Source: Pinterest

So yes, sex robots are coming, and will be socially divisive. I can clearly see how they would fill a need in the lives of lonely introverts who might struggle to date women in the normal way, but the more mainstream these dolls become, the more this hyper-sexual image of how women should look might become adopted as the norm. I am lucky I guess to be pushing sixty, and poised on that delicate cusp between cougar and care home, but I worry about the younger generation, who are already feeling insecure about their appearance thanks to cattle market 'swipe right' dating apps like Tinder.

So yes, sex robots don't smell human, but to what extent will that even matter?

For readers out there with partners, do you think you could pick out your loved one's T-shirt from a selection of three...or ten even?! And would they also pass the same test?

Then speaking of the science of attraction, up next is a post about my meet up with Geza Schoen earlier this month, who wrote: "The sexiest part of a woman is her mind."

I liked what I knew of Geza and his work before, but I like him even more now...!

And finally, here is a tongue in cheek / spoof song on this very out for the incomparable line: 'My sister is a pillow.'

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Aldi's £9.99 trio of luxury scented candles - scoop up a Jo Malone dupe...and dare to play with fire! ;)

No 8 appears to have shifted in transit...
It may seem odd of me to be featuring a review of scented candles during weather that might cause the lawn to spontaneously combust at any moment. Well, I say I type it has suddenly turned rather cloudy outside, and I am keeping a watchful eye on the washing. But it has been decidedly scorchio in recent days and additional sources of heat, however minimal, are the last thing on one's mind at such times. Added to which I am not normally a fan of scented, that is not right - I am, provided they steer well clear of the in-your-face fragrances of the dreaded Yankee Candle and its pound store ilk, together with some of the cruder fancy offerings at T K Maxx.

No, it is more that when I own a scented candle I tend not to light it, because I am very, very shaky - nay, wobbly - on wick care. I am dimly aware that there is a whole skill involved in maintaining wicks at an optimum height, not unlike a barber indeed with his Number 3 and 4 cuts, and I have never quite grasped it. On the odd occasions when I have burned candles, they often gave up the ghost after only burning a few mm, because I have accidentally managed to pull off the wick somehow, or bury it below the surface like a troublesome splinter, never to be prized free again. I have also had issues with 'smoke burn' (I may have made that term up), affecting the previously pristine white surface of the candle, along with something I will just refer to gnomically as 'hot bottoms'.

So dotted around the house are a number of examples of my 'very lightly burnt' scented candles, the complete combustion of which I have eschewed for one or more of the reasons above. And I also have a Roja Dove Sandalwood one which looks way too fancy to ever get cosy with a match. It has remained swaddled in bubble wrap for some years now. But as with wool and perfume, of which I have a glorious glut, sometimes I override all the mental brakes and levers telling me I don't need more examples of an item, and go and buy one anyway. Or in the case of the aforementioned Aldi trio of luxury scented candles, several!

The pineapple is also a candle!

Yep, for £9.99 you can buy three substantial, pleasingly heavy candles in glass jars, with chrome lids, with a cream and black label that screams 'Jo Malone'. The names are not merely cheekily similar to actual Jo Malone scents, but downright outrageously identical. My three pack comprises Red Roses, Wood Sage & Sea Salt, and Orris & Sandalwood. I have no idea how they even get away with that.

I hadn't noticed these candles myself, even though I shop at Aldi, because the multipack was being merchandised amongst the melee of non-food stuff in the middle of the store, where I don't tend to look, though I did get some bargain free weights and yoga socks there at Christmas! It was my good friend Lizzie who tipped me the wink, when I went round to her exquisitely decorated new home and spied one on the bathroom ledge (the only light in the room in fact, as she was waiting for an electrician to visit the following day ;) ), one on the dining room windowsill, and one in the living room fireplace. They were all burning away merrily, their unimpeded wicks clearly the result of expert trimming...and on closer inspection, they smelt delightful.

Which leads me to the point that these candles do not project their scent unduly - is there a word for the candle equivalent of 'sillage'? - but they look very classy in situ as they burn and have a lovely subtle scent when you are within range. And I really cannot stress enough how pleasantly surprised I was by just how high end the fragrances smelt. For the price it was truly uncanny, and as with some of the Lidl perfumes I have comprehensively covered on here down the years, I would like to shake their (doubtless highly covert!) perfumer by the hand, for he or she has done an extraordinary job with a minimal budget. Which is not to say that the ingredients - whether the wax itself, or the aromachemicals - will have cost the same as a proper Jo Malone, but at £3.33 a pop vs £45 the choice is a stark no brainer. And as I say these Aldi candles are streets ahead of other budget kinds I occasionally dare sniff in the likes of Home Bargains, B & M and Wilko.

I mention the wax possibly being different because of the intriguing warnings on the back of the box, the like of which I don't remember reading before. First and foremost, we are advised: "WARNING: CANDLES CAN CAUSE FIRES". Crikey, I would never have considered that. But that is just the start of it...We are also told:

"May produce an allergic reaction"

"Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects"

"Avoid release to the environment"

But hold on, how does one go about burning a candle in the first place without releasing its smoke / emissions to the 'environment' of one's living room? Or does the advice relate to the great outdoors? Are they saying it is okay to gas yourself and your goldfish quietly in the comfort and fragrant ambiance of your own home, but not to allow noxious particles to escape in your street for passers by to inhale? It's a conundrum. Interestingly, Red Roses is NOT deemed harmful to aquatic life. I just toss that titbit out there in case you were considering investing in a three pack and splitting it with friends. Give the fish owners the rose one, that would be the smart move.

I also learnt that you are meant to snuff out a candle, not blow it. I am not sure I have snuffed a candle out in my entire life. I thought that was something the Victorians did with special long handled metal snuffers. They are the sort of people who also used letter openers instead of ripping their post open with their bare hands like us modern folk. And you are meant to "keep the wax pool clear of matches and other debris to avoid flaring". Hmm, I think I may have had this flaring thing happen in the past, which could be what leads to my 'smoke burn'. But only from fragments of dead matches falling in there - and never deliberately allowed to fall in there - let alone 'other debris'. I wonder if people chuck used tissues on burning candles or exactly what "other debris" the manufacturers had in mind.

All of these warnings have rather served to reinforce my wariness around the whole tricky business of interacting with a candle, as there appears to be a strong safety dimension on top of my functional failure one.

And yet I shall light one of these candles when the weather properly goes over! I am feeling reckless. And keen to work on my wick whittling. Plus I have no fish! And even if I had, thanks to Truffle I wouldn't have them for long.

Finally, it says on the box that these candles are a limited edition, so I suggest that if you are not put off by the unnerving Health & Safety aspects, you hie thee to an Aldi sharpish before they are all gone. Bearing in mind that you may have to rummage amongst an eclectic mix of other household items to find them, as is the way with the discounters. But at that price it will be worth it, trust me.

Friday, 27 April 2018

The Spitalfields Spritzers: sniffing and scoffing with a gaggle - and giggle! - of international perfumistas

It's all about the friendships...
Last weekend saw one of the biggest gatherings of perfume lovers from all over the world, drawn at least in part by this year's Art and Olfaction Awards in London. I wasn't invited to that event, but I gladly took the opportunity of this formidable foregathering of fumeheads to spend some time with a sizeable subset of those who had hit town . Now I wouldn't normally run two 'perfumista meet-up' posts back-to-back, but if I wait another week, there is a real risk that the day's events will become 'yesterday's smelling strip'.

Thus it was that I set my alarm for 6.15am last Saturday. This ungodly hour alone would have been enough to arouse Truffle's suspicions of an impending trip. Her fears were compounded by the sight of multiple little rucksacks being auditioned for the optimum combination of capacity and unobtrusiveness, and several jackets lying around the dining room - none of them objects I would normally interact with at that time of day. But Truffle could also see that her access to the garden remained unblocked, so decided to make a sharp exit to the great outdoors while the going was good.

I set off at 7.30am to walk to the see a different side of a town when you are up and about so preternaturally early: cleaners wiping down office windows, staff opening up cafes, shop assistants walking to work. I also got a good view of the famous 'Pickup cats', who live in Stafford's only remaining electrical store. There are three altogether I believe, though given that they have been resident in the shop ever since I moved to Stafford over 30 years ago, there is every chance that the total number of cats - as well as the individual cats themselves - may have changed in that period!

At the station I hit my first technical hitch...the ticket machines were not working - neither the self-service ones nor the ones in the manned ticket office - so I was told (by Robert - always wise to clock people's name badges for added verisimilitude!) to get on the train with my paper confirmation of an online purchase and explain to the guard what had happened. Everyone who got on at Stafford would at least be telling a consistent story. ;)

The next apparent hitch in my journey - albeit not technically a technical one - was the fact that from Atherstone onwards I was hemmed in on all sides by six young mothers from Birmingham. Or at least five, because Whitney didn't look particularly motherly to my untrained eye. For two and a half hours I listened to them all talking about social media, their children's behaviour, other children's behaviour towards them (some of it involving sticks), their childrens' ailments and accidents, their pregnancies with their children, their husbands and partners, their parents' taste in music / dancing styles(!), their lust for a particular pair of shoes, make up bargains, the selection of T-shirts in Peacocks (with and without glitter), their jobs in various shops, and much more besides. The roll call of children whose names I caught were: Darcy and Poppy, Connor and Cody, and Willow and Brandon. I thought they were really going to bother me, talking so animatedly the whole way there, but I ended up being completely engrossed - I think I must be genuinely curious about other people, or should that be merely nosy? ;) At one point we all burst out laughing, when the woman opposite me (Emily, mother of Connor and Cody), inquired: 'What's the word for school?' She meant 'Academy', but everyone (me included!) simultaneously blurted out: 'School!'

Source: Birmingham Mail

Speaking of children, at every station there was the same announcement: "Please step onto the platform first before taking the pushchair off backwards." I must have heard it half a dozen times, and wondered how much practical benefit results from the advice in terms of parents correctly alighting from trains with their buggies, versus all the other passengers being irritated by its constant repetition. None of my mothers had their children with them, for example - why, that was the whole point of their trip to London - to have a nice lunch and some drinks, take in a show, and be unencumbered by kids for a day.

The next (actual!) technical hitch was the train being delayed due to something that was euphemistically described as 'an obstruction' and 'an issue' - in a tunnel just beyond Rugby. Obviously, everyone in our carriage immediately started thinking the issue and obstruction might in fact be a 'person'. We had to go via Northampton, but didn't stop there thankfully, and ended up with half an hour's delay, such that I was only ten minutes late for the brunch.

Are you ever going to get to this perfumista meet-up, or what??!!

Source: Tripadvisor

Coming, coming!
Yes, so as you can imagine, I was pretty socialised out when I finally got to Euston, three hours after I set off, and with the whole day still ahead of me(!). The group of eight of us was truly cosmopolitan: three people from Austria, only one of whom was Austrian born and bred (Val's daughter, Hannah), while Val is from everywhere as we know, and Lady Jane Grey is from Hungary/Slovakia, but lives in Vienna (with her French husband, to add a further international twist). Then there was that fumehead fulcrum of Facebook, the spectacularly globe-trotting Margo (who is from Poland), Lucy of Indieperfumes, who lives in New York, Megan - from Sainte Maxime (there's a clue in her blog name!) - and who is in fact a Kiwi, hehe - and Tara from London! (Her report on the day's events may be found here.)

The brunch when it came was very good - I would cheerfully have eaten pretty much anything anyone else had ordered, but opted for a vegetable burrito, on the basis that it was the most 'labour-intensive' dish on the menu, which I would never attempt to replicate at home.

'Al fresco' diners

I did have an 'issue' with my tea, mind. It tasted of onion, improbable as that may sound. Realistically it might just have been that limescale-y taste you get with water from the bottom of a kettle, but onion was the first thing that sprang to mind. I passed my mug round the assembled company, and of the three people who tried it, one thought it tasted funny in a non-specific way, one thought it was fine (admittedly a coffee drinker ;) ), and one agreed with me on the onion. So a slight majority found in my favour, which was enough to embolden me to complain about the tea and elicit a replacement. The next mug proved to be an altogether different kettle of fish (though happily not tasting of it!).

It was predictably great - and slightly surreal - to be there. I had met everybody before except Megan and Margo (I clearly need to work on my 'M's). People had strewn the table with samples of every stripe. To be perfectly honest, I was only interested in the new Hermessence samples, of which Val had a full set. She kindly gave me sample vials of Cèdre Sambac and Myrrhe Églantine (with its gratuitous accent on the capital 'E', which, contrary to my usual contrariness, I have faithfully reproduced, as I like it so much!). I have been wearing both on rotation ever since, indeed I just bought a travel spray of the latter on a Facebook group - yup, me who swore blind she wouldn't ever buy perfume again! Though it is quite small, and will get used if the rate at which Val's sample is going down is anything to go by.

 After brunch, I peeled off with Lady Jane Grey, while the others went straight to Bloom in Covent Garden. At this plateau stage in my perfume j*****y I find myself more excited by a high quality craft market than the prospect of sniffing random unknown things in a shop. I did buy an upcycled silk pencil case from a lovely Japanese lady, and thoroughly enjoyed catching up on LJG's news and generally having a mosey round the market. The craft stalls seemed to have shrunk though, while the food stalls have mushroomed exponentially since I was there last. And the whole enterprise has become way more commercial and slick. But the craft side of things still had the wow factor for me, and offered much richer present pickings than anything I could have found at home.

I was given a scarf from here - the red one, bottom left! 

After about an hour, we joined the rest of our party at Bloom, where they were still going strong! I only popped my head inside, as I find the ever-changing system of bottle organisation quite impenetrable, and the shop also a little on the dark side for my liking. But mostly I need a friend to quite literally press a clutch of samples into my palm and say: 'You are soooo gonna love these, V', before I can be seduced into trying something new. And Val is very good at doing just that.

While in the alley, Val presented me with another little friendship bracelet, to add to the one she gave me in Augsburg the last time we met. You see, Val, Tara and I have a bit of a three way conversation group (aka 'coven' / 'triumvirate') going on on Messenger, and V figured it could be a kind of symbolic uniform for us - you know, like boy scout neckerchiefs in the same colour. Only we got to choose different colours, hehe. I happened to have first pick, and went for one in a sort of bluey grey, while Tara chose peach and Val got the remaining blue one by default. But the bracelets are otherwise identical, with tiny copper pieces all the way along the cord.

Source: Wikipedia

After Bloom, we went en masse to a branch of The Forbidden Planet, which Wikipedia describes as 'the world's largest and best-known science fiction, fantasy and cult entertainment retailer'. Val specifically wanted to go there to buy a poster for her gym trainer back in Austria, and quickly found one he would like of Batman. The shop was crammed with merchandise of every kind to do with sci-fi and fantasy films, comics and books etc. I gazed in awe at the cabinets full of figurines of monsters and robots and dinosaurs and Manga women fighters with preposterous physiques and I don't know what else, and also marvelled at the fact that there was absolutely nothing I would wish to buy in here, however long I spent combing the fixtures. While standing in the store, somewhere between scarily be-logo'ed T-shirts and tin tardises, I had an incongruous conversation with Lucy about our respective skincare regimes, in which she sang the praises of The Ordinary. Looking at her completely unlined complexion, I couldn't help but agree.

Next up, we made our way back to Covent Garden, where there was a half-hearted and abortive attempt to buy ice creams (the queues!!). Instead, we ended up fleetingly refuelling in Starbucks with an assortment of beverages before heading off to our next destinations - in my case the station, while the others were going to change and rest up before the awards ceremony with its intriguing dress code of 'bohemian cocktail', which I for one would much rather drink than wear.

I am pleased to report that there were no further train related incidents on the way home. I had had quite enough fun and excitement for one day!