Sunday, 14 February 2016

My fizzy Valentine...Schhh, you know who!

It is a mark of how preoccupied I have been lately that Valentine's Day is upon us and I nearly forgot to mark the date with a post. I have written one in past years, though by no means with anything approaching regularity. Okay, precisely twice in six and a half years, plus a snippet towards a big collaborative effort on Cafleurebon. Of the two posts on here, only the one from 2013 gets as far as suggesting perfumes suited to the occasion, and to this day remains the closest approximation to a classic Valentine's feature, though in fairness it's still pretty random.

And because I am sure someone else has addressed the theme of 'dark seductive rose scents', or whatever else a person might think to wear to a romantic candlelit dinner - should you be fortunate enough to have a partner who will not flinch at the shameless price hikes that obtain at this time of year - I will confine myself to telling you about my own Valentine's Day so far. It may be more typical than I imagine - you can be the judges of that!

Sunday started later than usual, at 6.57am, when Truffle began her highly honed and completely non-negotiable 'walking on my face' trick, which she will sustain without let up for a good fifteen minutes. I usually crack within three, however, and stumble downstairs in the semi-gloom to feed her. In the past few days, the head walking stunt has been timed at 5.47, 5.53 and 3.48, so at least there's no risk of the pair of us getting in a rut with our morning callisthenics routine - or cat-isthenics, routine, even.

'It's this or your head.'

In the past, I could always count on receiving a Valentine's card from Charlie Bonkers, with an actual paw mark on it and everything. She used to sell some of her kibble to raise funds to buy it, peel off the cellophane wrapper and price label - the full nine yards. By contrast, there has been nothing at all from Truffle today - no box of eponymous chocolates, no card, zilch. I tell myself she is still only five months old, and has no means of getting out to go to the shops, even if she could write.

Truffle can already flick water like a good 'un, mind - that was her technique this morning for making me get out of the bath, so she could climb in after me and swing the plug around on its chain, bat the Greek sponge around like a football etc. Yes, she splashed water about half a dozen times quite deliberately over my iPhone. She knows about this tech stuff, I tell you, like all the young ones seem to do. I bet she'd gone and hidden the bag of rice too, that trusty cupboard staple pressed into service in such calamities.

Later this morning, Truffle was very naughty with some hanks from the wool basket, getting a high end ball of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino yarn into a right old robble. If it had been bright red, there might have been extenuating circumstances given the nature of the day, but it was egg yolk yellow and definitely off limits.

But even though the kitten didn't quite come up trumps, the day has been enjoyable. I visited the friend who keeps perfume in the fridge on his barge - the one I introduced to BEX Londoner SE1. In a strictly non-Valentine's related show of hospitality, he served up rhubarb crumble, which we ate off a repurposed toilet seat before watching a pair of swans outside the window not quite making partial heart shapes with their necks.

Next up I went to Asda, where, rather than buy myself an expensive bunch of roses on the cusp of wilting, or a pack of strawberries with dipping chocolate - or even an Easter egg for that matter, as there are absolutely tons of those in store already! - I stocked up with 36 cans of tonic water with a best before of May 2016. Half price at just £2 a box! Can I drink 36 gins in about 12 weeks - leaving a bit of a buffer for premature flatness, or 'deffervescence', if that's a word? At a rate of only three a week, I'd say no bother at all...;)

And now, in the spirit of 'sisters spraying it for themselves', I really should consider putting on some perfume for what's left of the day. In view of my 'tonic coup' just now, maybe I'll skip the rose scents this year, and go straight for Juniper Sling.

Oh, and here is the iconic ad in question...

Saturday, 13 February 2016

'What not to wear': thoughts on stress and perfume

Vintage (too big?) Principles suit!
In three weeks' time I will have been freelance for 25 years. It's a lifestyle characterised by long periods of inactivity, often spent 'constructively waiting' for promised projects to kick off, followed by frenetic bursts of busyness. If someone had told me back in 1991 that I would have to find enough work to last me 25 years, I would have been so daunted by the prospect I might never have taken the plunge! Yes, it has only been possible to keep going this long by not thinking about the future too much, and living - or latterly more like lurching - from year to year. I suspect that the rise of SurveyMonkey has a lot to answer for in terms of queering my professional pitch, as my particular school of 'qualitative' interviewing - with its open-ended and unstructured lines of questioning - is increasingly seen as an unwieldy luxury in this short attention span age of channel zapping and Twitter.

That said, I am currently flat out on a research project of the classic kind, setting up appointments with key companies in a variety of industry sectors. It is proving challenging, however, because - just like in the run up to my last US trip in 2010 - I find myself grappling with a monster database and have ended up researching each market from scratch, and generating my own lists of companies and relevant people within them. Which all takes time, so at the end of the first week I have just one appointment in the diary to show for my efforts out of a target of 10! Not great going, but very few people pick up their phones these days, assuming the switchboard will put you through in the first place. And the question you will unfailingly get asked eventually - 'I can give you his email address?' - is the kiss of death to my kind of inquiry, the success of which relies on the combination of a pleasant telephone manner and a soupcon of surprise.

Source: pinterest

And by mid-afternoon on Friday I realised that I had been so consumed by the difficult task in hand that I hadn't applied perfume all week, an omission that is completely without precedent. Even on my Californian project, I remembered to wear some before I went to bed:

"I have been so preoccupied and mithered this week that I have sometimes forgotten to apply perfume till late in the day - or even late in the Americans' day."

There seems to have been a crisis on the food shopping front, mind:

" is getting to the point where food parcels would not go amiss. Mr Bonkers has eaten all the pizzas in the freezer and is just starting on the boxes."

I had food in the house at least, but my fragrance failings troubled me no end. So I promptly dabbed on a bit of the nearest vial that came to hand, astonished that I could have been distracted like this on such a sustained basis.

Truffle, keenly aware that I could do with 'friends in high places'

As it happens, I have touched on the subject of when a person might not feel like wearing perfume in a couple of other posts on Bonkers, notably this one, where I cite the instances of illness, and the death of - or an argument with - a loved one. I also lobbed in a nuclear holocaust for good measure - on a purely hypothetical basis it must be hoped - notwithstanding all the Cold War-style posturing going on in Korea at the moment.

"I think if there was a nuclear holocaust I might also forgo perfume. I might even not get washed."

And I know there is often talk on the blogs of what perfumes you turn to to comfort and soothe in times of stress, but this week proves that sometimes you are in such a hyper state that any perfume risks being jarring and 'too much' - even if I had remembered I'd forgotten to put it on!

Source: pfitblog

Have you ever NOT worn perfume for 4-5 days on the trot because the balance of your mind was disturbed?

I would be interested to hear your scentless experiences!

PS All the best to Nick Gilbert, all-round fragrance guru and good egg, who launched his own freelance venture this week. He is nearly 31, which coincidentally is the age I was when I went solo!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Widget weirdness, a blogspot of bother, and stemming the lost follower lemmings

Source: Etsy
Five years ago this week(!), I had 63 followers. I felt moved to write a post back then about the frisson of pleasure that the little mosaic of avatars gives me whenever a new colourful square pops up, signalling the arrival of a new reader. Someone who is keen to catch every post and not just dip in occasionally. And who hasn't just landed on Bonkers by mistake, as I have long assumed so many visitors do. As I remark in that post:

'You would be amazed how many people find Bonkers about Perfume by looking for avocados.'

In the same post, I also fret about the possible reasons why a single follower recently left:

'Perhaps they were bemused by my post about Californian road surfaces. Or the sheer number of posts about California last month. Even readers based in California would probably agree that the attention accorded to their state was disproportionate.'

So that was then - I lost one follower and it troubled me... Fast forward to January 2016, when I started out with 166 followers, from memory. In the space of a week or so, I lost 23 followers in two huge tranches - 13, and then a further 10. In the whole of 2015 I think I was down one follower, and hadn't particularly worried about that. But 23 in a matter of days is starting to look a lot like lemmings.

Source: Jacquie Boyd via Debutart

And as a woman of a certain age, I am prone to anxiety at the best of times - it is all part and paranoid parcel of the hormonal soup which comes with this mid-life territory. If someone doesn't reply to an email for a longish period of time, I am more likely to assume the person has taken violently against me rather than that they are away, or merely busy. And so my first reaction to this mass exodus of followers was that there were rumours circulating about me somewhere in cyberspace, urging perfumistas to unfollow Bonkers at their earliest convenience. I actually found myself googling various likely permutations of search terms, such as:

'I don't like Vanessa's style of writing / Vanessa / what Vanessa said'

'Stopped reading Bonkers about Perfume'

'Unfollow Vanessa's blog'

'Bonkers about Perfume not about perfume anymore'

Source: YouTube

And more, much more, in that cringeworthy self-critical vein! You see, the fact that I ran two consecutive posts on makeup and skincare around the time this drop off in followers occurred - even though I assured readers that I would be returning to the subject of fragrance imminently - struck me as possibly significant. Maybe people suddenly got fed up with these off-topic posts. Maybe all the followers in question were men, who couldn't give a toss about lipsticks and serum, though I had no way of knowing.

So my working theory at this point was that the skincare posts - in particular my list of vacuous personal discoveries such as tying one's hair back before washing one's face and how to apply eyeshadow(!) - might have been the tipping point that turned people away in droves. And then I suddenly had the idea to google a different line of inquiry, specifically about 'losing followers suddenly on Blogger'.

And to my surprise and relief up popped a recent blog post by a chap called Chuck Croll (the 'nitecruzr' below) on this very subject, which explains what may be going on, namely that Google is eliminating followers who use Open ID accounts as opposed to Blogger / Google accounts.

Here is a helpful extract explaining the problem:

'People Following without Google accounts did not get newsfeed subscriptions.

Followers using OpenID only got their photo icon in the Followers facepile. How would OpenID Followers get a Reading List subscription? Reading List subscriptions require Blogger / Google accounts.

If you look in your Reading List and find this blog listed, you are Following this blog using a Blogger account - since the Reading List subscription is one benefit of Following. If you don't find this blog listed, you may subscribe, using Reading List - or Follow, using "Follow Me". Just use a Blogger / Google account, when you Follow.'


Chuck goes on to say that readers can also follow using Google +, but I don't think I am currently geared up for that, and need to figure out what I have to do in order to be able to post the appropriate gadget in the sidebar.

Now I can't be totally sure that this is the reason for losing such a flurry of followers this month, but given the timing of the post about the phenomenon - and the fact that even my paranoia can be offset with arguments about the 'balance of probability' - I reckon this is what is at work.

So assuming the 23 lost followers (at the time of writing that is - they may not be the last to go!), were booted off Bonkers by Google rather than deserting of their own accord, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to them all - even though they are almost certainly not reading, or only if they are supremely determined! I hope you can figure out an alternative method / widget that works for you if you would like to receive notifications of future posts. There's Bloglovin and Follow by Email of course - I hope those are additional options, and not also dependent on a Google account.

Yep, as I said in my 2011 post, I remain 'a fair weather computer operator' and am not a little nonplussed by this widget weirdness, and readers apparently running for the hills...

And if the mass exit was in fact because of something I said - or the topics featured - I am sorry about that too, though I shall probably never know...!

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Fairy bread and Cosmopolitans: An (Ubar-fabulous) evening with Portia Turbo at Perfume Lovers London (28.1.16)

This Thursday marked the eighth anniversary of my falling down the rabbit hole, ironically by idly googling a few perfumes a friend wore that I didn't like, and observing that they had a number of notes in common. One google led to another...eventually to fragrance wheels and pyramids and samples, from where it was a short bunny hop to full blown mania, an international network of perfumista friends, and a collection of 70 bottles and counting. Hopefully counting down, but last week's eBay coup isn't exactly heading in the right direction. Anyway, it seems fitting that I marked the occasion by popping down to London to attend the much awaited Perfume Lovers London meet up, featuring flamboyant Aussie drag queen, Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies. She has unfortunately had to 'go down a -Gear' following a nonsensical Facebook ruling on using real names, but Portia Turbo is still a pretty wicked name.

The obligatory outfit crisis

As you may recall, I invariably have an outfit crisis before any kind of important event, and this PLL meet up was no exception. In the end I gave up on reconciling my twin aims of smartness and warmth, and went for smartness. However, this was undermined somewhat by the stomach I had developed in the past week after consuming an entire bucket of Maltesers, which was unfortunately showcased by my aptly named 'dinner trousers'. Or 'after dinner choc binge trousers' to give them their full name. I only noticed this problem protuberance when I saw the photos of me from the night, and in hindsight would have been better off with something a bit more floaty and forgiving.

Me and Portia - lost a tum and gained Angela Merkel!

Forgotten things

And it is also traditional for me to forget something on such occasions: this time it was my watch, an umbrella, money, and one of the five coupons which collectively comprised my train ticket - I must have failed to scoop it up from the vending machine. As luck would have it, the next customer retrieved the coupon, handed it to a member of staff, who gave it to the conductor of the train I was on, who proceeded to walk through all the carriages looking for its owner, which could be ascertained by marrying up the serial numbers with my other coupons. What a fine example of proactive customer service that I didn't even know I needed! Or not until I attempted to travel home and found my ticket was invalid without that missing coupon...

The welcome committee

I was met at Euston (the novelty! the Brief Encountery-ness of it all!) by Val the Cookie Queen of APJ and Rachael Potts, both examples of that remarkable Venn diagram intersection of fumehead and fellow Monochrome Set fans. Rachael - whom I was meeting for the first time - immediately endeared herself to me by saying that I had a 'grown up voice' and was 'enigmatic'. (This may have meant in practice that I was unable to give any advance platform information, or even let her know where my train was coming from.) The three of us quickly hooked up with Tara of A Bottled Rose, Val's husband Chris, Val's travelling therapist, Dr Fox, and Lady Jane Grey, who had just flown in from a business meeting near Geneva! Some of us went to grab an impromptu bite near the venue, before joining the rest of our (predominantly German speaking ;) ) party at the venue. This was accessed by a very steep flight of stairs, which you would not wish to negotiate in either direction if you were a few Cosmopolitans to the wind.

Val, looking lively in leopardskin

Quirky and top notch scram

Yes, before moving on to an account of the event proper, the refreshments deserve a word of special commendation. I don't recall the full spread, but I did clock unwrapped Penguins, the Aussie delicacy known as Fairy Bread (dainty triangles of bread and butter sprinkled with hundreds and thousands - or 'sprinkles' for any US readers who don't mind a spot of repetition), some kind of twizzly extruded snacks and the biggest cashew nuts I have ever seen. If I hadn't just eaten a sizzling bowl of bibimbap I would have made light work of those, I can tell you. And even though the jug of ready mixed Cosmopolitans had been drunk by the time I investigated the options, I was impressed by the fact that this 'fun, fruity cocktail', beloved of the characters in Sex and The City had been on offer. It set the tone for Portia's fun, fruity talk no less!

We didn't have the teal variety! Source: Wikipedia

Portia's outfit - worth the ticket price in itself

I am not sure there is such an expression as 'a destination outfit' as there is a 'destination wedding' - you know, where the bride and groom fly to the Caribbean and combine the ceremony and honeymoon under one petal-strewn poolside pergola - but I would pay good money just to go and see Portia in all her glamorous finery. The coruscating talk was a bonus. So, starting at the bottom, Portia was shod in clear perspex peep-toe shoes with tottering 'f*** me' heels, to the terrifying vertiginousness of which her stretchy ankle bandage may have been testament. Next came a pair of very pale flesh coloured tights on her shapely legs, topped by a baby doll nightie in some suitably - or unsuitably depending on your stance on such things - diaphanous material, which made an interesting counterpoint with Portia's newly grown hipster beard. Well, new since I saw her last, which is a while ago (see outfit crisis link above!). And then came the crowning glory - Portia's headpiece, which I can best describe as a sparkly golden whelk. It was truly magnificent and looked quite heavy, but she is a real trouper, I sense, and has doubtless been weighed down by even more elaborate headgear in her time.

Scent of a (clatter of remarkable) women from down the ages

So finally, on to the event itself, which kicked off about 7.15pm 'We are starting a bit late', quipped Portia, 'because some of you can't afford watches!' (Can't afford - or can't remember to bring them, I thought to myself.) The session was relaxed, interactive, completely hilarious and occasionally blue or sweary in places. A winning combination of ingredients in my book.

Kirk, Val, Chris and Pia

Now I know that Tara will be reporting on the night for APJ itself, and she is noted for being as meticulous as a court reporter in her note taking. Consequently, I shall not attempt to present a full account of Portia's talk, for my own scribbly jottings would fall woefully short. Instead, I will endeavour to give a flavour of the content, which centred around a list of twelve formidable female figures from history - mostly, but not all benign, it should be said - whom Portia had matched with a scent which she felt summed up their character / persona. Blotters of the fragrances in question were distributed amongst us so we could all experience Portia's suggestion. The audience meanwhile had been randomly assigned fabric strips with the names of one of the women featured, and were asked to think what we would associate that person with ourselves. Googling was permitted, should anyone be a bit nonplussed by the name they had been allocated!

So without further preamble - though you knew there would have to be some, this being Bonkers ;) - here is a quick romp through a selection of the featured women from history, their assigned scents, and any comments from the audience. I should point out that the titbits I have homed in on in the 'Famous for' category by no means give an exhaustive picture of that individual's lifetime achievements, hehe.


Famous for: Marrying her brother and creating the Syrian army - 'which was just as f***ed then as it is now'. Cleopatra apparently had a good body, but a 'face like a foot'. She painted her skin with lead to make her face whiter, and drank a pearl dissolved in vinegar in a bet with Mark Antony. (My notes were a bit shaky at this point, but Googling is permitted, as I say.)

Ubar by Amouage

NB (I chose this as my sample to take home at the end of the night, because I know it is a particular favourite of Undina's, and thought that after my recent rapprochement with Salome, I was ready to give this 'big hitter' perfume another go).

Audience suggestions: White Diamonds, Poison, Onda Extrait (no prizes for guessing who that was!), and good old plain ass's milk. Or even asses' milk, as it would take a couple to fill a bath.

Source: Pinterest


Famous for: Leading the French to victory against England in the Hundred Years' War and being burnt at the stake. ;(

Celtic Fire by Union(!)

Audience suggestions: I didn't say so, but Brulure de Rose flitted into my mind - and promptly out again! I think it was in connection with poor Joan that Lila came up with Jovoy Paris's La Liturgie des Heures, because of its being an incense scent. There was much ribald discussion of the existence of the Marmite accord that is meant to be in Celtic Fire, but Grant Osborne has seen it in the vial, so that settled the matter.

Source: Wikipedia


Famous for: Being a nurse in the Crimean War and having the idea of sanitising hospital wards and washing patients' clothes.

Sharp by Andrea  Maack

NB (My review of Sharp may be found here. I liked it best out of Andrea Maack's range, not least because it had no discernible metal note, though arguably that would not have been out of place in a scent associated with field hospitals.) Sharp reminded Portia of SL Laine de Fer, and some loft? insulation material the name of which I didn't catch, but which sounded humorous.

Audience suggestions: Dettol(!), Estee Lauder White Linen, and something else I have failed to write down.

Source: Roullier White


Famous for: Being the Chinese Emperor's concubine, Dowager Empress and Regent of China, and having unfeasibly long nails, which knock the entire cast of TOWIE's talons into a cocked hat. Tz'u Hsi also oversaw the establishment of schools, the reorganisation of the army - and the suppression of opium cultivation.

YSL Opium (vintage) - haha!

Audience suggestions/comments: Rachael mentioned that she once got off her head sniffing Opium in the 1970s during a bout of flu. 'While we were all snorting poppers!' joked Portia. Given the age Portia would have been in the '70s it is sincerely to be hoped not. ;)

KATHARINE HEPBURN (note spelling - I speak as a 'not quite fellow' Kathryn)

Famous for: A stellar Hollywood career spanning 60 years, and legendary cheekbones. Portia said: 'I ate my way out of that look, but I like to think I have some of her poise'. Based on how well Portia was managing in those killer heels, despite a dodgy ankle, I would say a resounding yes to that.

JHAG Gentlewoman

Portia joked: 'A lot of perfumistas need to be challenged every time they breathe in, but I just need to smell good!' I liked this soapy yet crisp orange-y cologne myself and would say 'Amen' to that sentiment!

Audience suggestions: FM Le Parfum de Therese (ie something a bit more spiky and angular, I infer - more African Queen, if you will), Jicky, Dior Eau Sauvage ('Ooh yes,' exclaimed Portia, 'she would have bathed in the s***!'), Miss Dior and Chanel No 5.


And finally, I would like to include this one, because of my personal connection to the scent Portia chose for her...


Famous for: Her magnetic violet eyes, continually marrying and unmarrying Richard Burton, and being in a ton of iconic films, including Cleopatra (see above!). Her face is considerably more beautiful than a foot, it must be said.

Rochas Byzance

NB This was the perfume I associate with my mother because of her not wearing it, and which gave rise to this elegaic post about her, which some readers may remember, and which is the piece of writing anywhere on Bonkers which means the most to me. I describe Byzance in my review as 'A retro soapfest clouded in mystery'.

Audience suggestions: Tara came up with FM Lipstick Rose, which spookily enough was the exact same scent that popped into my mind, on account of its cosmetic boudoir vibe and violet connection!

Portia having a swishy skirt moment.

So yes, these are only half the people featured. I was assigned Oprah Winfrey, for example, and 'channelled' Michael Kors as my suggestion, which is weird as I am not sure I have even smelt it - that's why I say 'channelled', because it came to me just like that! Portia, meanwhile, picked YSL M7 for her. And higher up the post I may of course be seen posing with Angela Merkel, who was teamed with a Byredo scent. Oh, and I would just like to mention that I had heard of the oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle, but only because there was a programme on her on Radio 4 the other week.

Portia, Val, Tara and Sabine (of Iridescents)

Then after the talk there was the usual high octane milling around and having lightning conversations with fellow fumeheads - much like speed dating, indeed, but without the dating part.

Rachael and me

This was a good opportunity to hand over a pair of wrist warmers I had knitted as a commission for Val, and there was also the usual exchanging of little goody bags. Oh, and of course I had to take away one of Val's brownies. Eating it on the train home was (not for the first time, indeed) a way of proving to myself that that night of unalloyed fabulousness, razzle-dazzle, and all round not-quite-family entertainment really happened. Yep, Portia, you are still a caution and a hoot and a half, and long may you continue to be so!

Brownie plus coupons reunited!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A paler shade of black: vintage Lancôme Magie Noire - my '80s cat's pyjamas scent, and other cat/perfume crossovers

My eBay purchase
It's over four years since I wrote a post about my lack of 'long term perfume loves', or what might perhaps better be called my decidedly chequered perfume wearing cv / career, before I was struck down by sudden onset perfume mania on 28th January, 2008 - ooh, it's my anniversary tomorrow!

I do commend that post to you if you weren't reading Bonkers back then, not least for the gallery of photos of a Greek national flag-themed T-shirt dress which becomes progressively more holey over time...Much like Greece's finances, for that matter.

In that piece I wrote about my 'fairly indifferent, casually monogamous relationship' with fragrance, and also drew up an inventory of the perfumes I had owned from my youth up until the date of my epiphany, grouping them by category - it really didn't take long as there were so few overall!:

- Unsolicited presents from boyfriends
- SA-driven impulse buys at airports
- Purchases prompted by a wish to be vaguely in tune with the Zeitgeist
- Purchase prompted by a wish to emulate my very cool lodger, Caroline

And finally, and most significantly...

- Purchase prompted by a wish to enhance my pulling powers during a decade of peak opportunity

Lancôme Magie Noire

As I mention in the post, the reason this is significant is because I somehow managed to light upon Magie Noire with no reference to outside influences as far as I can recall. And because I really thought I was the cat's pyjamas in this witchy oriental chypre. Given my aversion to civet, which was pretty entrenched until relatively recently, it is quite remarkable that I should have found such a forbidding animalic scent so bewitching.

But bewitching I found it, and to this day Magie Noire has haunted me - like one or two men from my past indeed! - as 'the one that got away'. I say 'got away' because the fragrance has predictably been reformulated on two occasions: 1986 and 2005. I think - though my memory is fuzzy - that I would have bought the 1986 version in the so-called 'mushroom top' bottle, quite possibly in the very year of its re-release. The fact that the perfume was created (in 1978) by a trio of perfumers (Gerard Goupy, Jean-Charles Niel and Yves Tanguy) and that it has a very long 'kitchen sink' kind of note list, brings to mind the scene in Macbeth with the three witches, lobbing yet another faintly disturbing ingredient into their bubbling cauldron.

'Sabbat' by Tony Grist via Wikimedia Commons

Notes: bergamot, hyacinth, mimosa, galbanum, blackcurrant buds, raspberry, iris, jasmine, lily of the valley, narcissus, rose, tuberose, ylang ylang, honey, patchouli, sandalwood, cedarwood, oakmoss, amber, labdanum, musk

Fast forward to last year, when I was given a cast off (mostly used) bottle of Magie Noire by a friend of my mother's. From the mid-90s, it hadn't aged quite as well as its owner, who is IN her 90s, but it was not off as such, and its rich, pungent, mossy, funky brew was unmistakable. I can't say I have worn it since - or not until the other day. Well, it would be nearer the mark to say it wore me, but I wasn't sure if this was because it had become so 'stewed', as it were. And the wearability of Magie Noire in my mind was almost by the by, for at this point in my perfume 'j***ney' the fragrance had taken on an iconic status in my mind, and was symbolic of my starting out on my own: first job presiding over a multi-million pound empire of coleslaw(!), first house, not first love exactly, but a major one.

The bottle I inherited from my mother's friend

And so it was that on a whim I started googling vintage bottles of Magie Noire on eBay - there were a few, one with a buy it now price of £89.99(!), albeit that was 100ml. However, it looked an even more evil colour than my 'stewed' bottle from the same era. My eye was soon caught by another bottle, the juice in which was the colour of pale straw, like the precise shade of pee we are encouraged to produce as a mark of optimum hydration. Its lack of excessive maceration looked too good to believe, and in a cynical moment I even wondered if the seller might have watered it down or even filled the bottle with 'modern' Magie Noire. Though you would have to be pretty determined to prise those black plastic shoulders off to do the swindling deed.

Source: Pinterest
Also, there was a photo of the label on the base, which matched the one on my mum's friend's bottle, bar the coding. A bit more googling led me to a blog post about carbon dating vintage Lancôme bottles, and I was able to verfiy that the bottle on eBay was from 1991. It had presumably just had a less rickety life than the one I owned, secreted in dark wardrobes and drawers perhaps, rather than living it large on bathroom windowsills or sun-drenched dressing tables. And obviously I made up the 'carbon' bit, but it does carry on our noire theme...;)

I was also amused by the byline in the eBay listing:

'Opened and spayed twice, so completely full'

Which reminded me that I need to book Truffle's op soon - once she has had the procedure, I doubt that she would want to go through it again, mind. And this unexpected cat imagery rather fits in with my cat's pyjamas scent of course. ;) Magie Noire does have the personality of a black cat to my mind - you know, a black, witch's familiar kind. It has that sensual feel of sleek fur, with an animalic underbelly - think muddy paws that have recently scattered cat litter, hehe...Then the green, sharper aspect (which is reportedly more pronounced in the edt that I have), conjures up cat claws nestling in between paw pads - retracted, but ready to be deployed at a moment's notice. The chypre facet also evokes that 'en garde' stance which cats adopt - with an arched back and fur standing on end - which phenomenon I have just learnt is called 'piloerection'.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Really and truly, Magie Noire is so far off anything I should like really - it's in the same vein as Cabochard (though lose the leather) or Ormonde Jayne Woman maybe, if you were to recast that as a vintage scent and added a civet-y base. I am puzzling over why I should have liked Magie Noire when I was so young, but of course our noses were more attuned to diva scents in the 80s - this was before the aquatic tsunami engulfed us and washed all our filth-forward scents clean off the stage. I mean I also wore Ysatis around the same time, which seems overtly animalic to me now. And the tuberose fright wig that is Giorgio Beverley Hills was also riding high, flanked by the fearsome spicy duo of Opium and Coco Chanel. So bombastic 'elevator clearers' were very much the thing in that era, just as we fell prey to a zillion frumpy fashion disasters and pottered round the house weighed down by a head full of Carmen heated rollers.

Anyway, if you are curious to read a real review, Victoria of Boisdejasmin has written a corker on Magie Noire, perfectly capturing its dark, brooding character and chypre-oriental duality.

Pukka pale straw plays (very) golden (shower?)

So I bid on the bottle, and won, and it arrived yesterday. The plastic is 'out of the box' shiny and new, and the juice as pale as advertised. The fill level is a good 25% lower, mind, and I assume the seller did not spot it under the shoulders. I am not going to make a big thing of that, because I have enough for my own needs and feel that it is still a bargain given its mint condition. The scent itself is lighter and fresher than my 'stewed' bottle, but unequivocably genuine. So I wrote to the seller to advise her about the fill level and also to inquire about the bottle's history. She offered me a box of Cerruti Image body lotion to make up for the missing perfume - which is kind of her, but I am as well stocked with body lotion as I am perfume! - and also told me more about how she came by the bottle:

"Yes the perfume is from my grandma's collection - she has over 60 perfumes that she has collected over the decades - really, very nice taste. Unfortunately due to age a lot of them are stale so we're only listing useable ones currently and going though her vast collection. Over 70% were completely unused - she had a habit of collecting and going though phases. She's still with us but we're slowly clearing out her house, as she will be moving into care in the next few months."

It's funny to think that I bought my original bottle of Magie Noire a number of years before this lady, who is someone's granny! I refuse to designate this as an old lady's scent, however, even if I am moving inexorably along that particular travelator, teetering non that delicate cusp between cougar and care home, as I like to think of it.

And finally, I will sign off with these cryptic lines from the Procul Harum classic track, a mangled nod to which features in the title of this post - there is arguably a small oblique commentary here about the acceptability of musks...

"If music be the food of love
Then laughter is its queen
And likewise if behind is in front
Then dirt in truth is clean"

1920s ad for Ipswich Hosiery Stockings Or IPSWITCH, should that be?!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A muted mood and more make up musings, including a claggy Clarins coup, and the Leaning Tower of Travel Pots

Thumbs up, and a victory sign for 'V'!
It's been a funny start to the year what with all these stars dying, like Bowie and Alan Rickman. A friend remarked that at this rate the firmament will soon be 'starless and Bible-black'. The music business seems to be particularly life-limiting, certainly. Then another friend was wondering if Donald Trump might possibly be next, as he is also 69, but if so he would only go and take Charlotte Rampling and Roy Wood with him, which would never do. The same friend actually had a 'marital exclusion' for Alan Rickman, which she is now going to have to reassign; knowing her, it will be to Kevin Spacey, who on the face of it strikes me as an unlikely tree up which to bark. I must say I am not sure I have quite taken in the fact that Bowie is dead. I can vividly remember dancing myself into a trance to Jean Genie at school discos in about 1974. He provided the vividly eclectic, insidiously liberating bass line to my adolescence, encouraging hordes of teenagers like me to 'let yourselves go'. And now, having fallen to earth, he has quietly let himself go back up again...

Top of the Pops, 1974 ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons

So between that, some yarn colour and tension issues(!), and frustrations to do with the timing of my work projects, I have been feeling a bit subdued lately. The week didn't get off to a particularly auspicious start either: the kitten has another tummy upset, and also managed to topple an eight foot palm on Monday morning, spraying earth all over a freshly hoovered pale carpet. But then a neighbour popped round and mentioned that her daughter has just had an op to stop her brain leaking out down her nose, which rather put things in perspective.

I swear I will pick up the threads of perfume presently, but there is something about the New Year that prompts me to experiment with - and organise - my make up and skincare collections, and there were a few noteworthy developments(!) recently that I thought I'd consign to screen before getting back on topic, as far as I ever do.

A claggy Clarins coup

A wonder, but far from perfect! ~ Source: eBay

For a while now I have had a make up albatross in my possession, to wit a Clarins Wonder Perfect mascara a friend gave me for my birthday - I think this year, but it could well be older. I have only used it half a dozen times, because from the off it was extremely claggy and thick, so much so that the black gunk - we could perhaps even call it 'clag', by analogy with 'slag' - actually oozed out from under the cap. Eventually, my annoyance at the poor performance of this high end cosmetics item prompted me to take the mascara back to Boots - not with any hope of replacing it, as I had no receipt and couldn't rightly recall how long I had had it - but just to draw their attention to its messy malfunctioning in a mildly irritated yet calm manner. Imagine my surprise when the SA offered to replace the wayward wand with a different model (Be Long) on the spot. So Long, Be Claggy! What excellent customer service, I thought to myself, as it would have been quite cathartic just to have vented. And the SA did so despite my blurting out the rather insensitive kicker that a £1 mascara from Poundland was better behaved.

Eking out recalcitrant serum

The other day, I finally reached the bottom of my Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye serum. Well, I unscrewed the top and saw that there was in fact a little smidge left at the bottom that the pump would not manage to extract. So, using that tried and tested 'getting the last bit of tinned tomato out of the can' technique, I filled the bottom with warm water and swilled it around to form a slightly serum-y liquid, which I used up over the course of the next three nights - rather haphazardly it must be said - tipping some into my hand and quickly slapping it on my cheeks, a bit like a facial oil but one that is prone to falling off again immediately. Ah well, I think some of the liquid may have stuck to its target, and I had that deep sense of satisfaction that nothing was wasted.

Getting the 'tail end' out of the bottle!

The Leaning Tower of Travel Pots

I have already had a good moan here about the friable nature of these stacks of travel pots used for storing creams and lotions. I buy yet another set - from Boots or Muji or whomever - and before you can say 'built-in product obsolescence' another bit of plastic rim has sheared off. It's simply going to happen, so you may as well accept that it is an endemic design flaw with this particular product. Here's my current tower, with a Clarins foundation on the top storey, and goodness only knows what elsewhere. Some combination of Liz Earle cleanser, hair texturising clay, night cream and/or Olay serum. All 'leaning' to white in colour, and hence deeply confusing.

A novel take on 'washing my eyelids'

Now you may be thinking I have been under a rock for the past twenty years - or since whenever I was first allowed to wear makeup, which is more like forty - but I have only just twigged to the whole purpose of those paler colours in eyeshadow palettes - you know, the vaguely biscuit coloured ones, or even more bizarre on the face of it, the near white shades! In this Pretty Honest book Sali Hughes says that in your Desert Island make up bag you only really need a universally flattering brown eye shadow, and a sort of ivory one, to act as a 'wash' over the lids and a bit up into the socket. I have steered completely clear historically of the paler end of the palette, thinking a) I have no discernible eye sockets and b) anything that white will make me look like a ghoul.

A bit faint, but it did look okay, really!

Then the other day I had a play with a combination of the palest colour in this HD Brows palette that Tara of A Bottled Rose kindly gave me, over the eyelid and a bit higher up as I understand you are meant to do - though it still might be stretching the truth - and the skin! - to call it a socket in my case, followed by the darkest colour (Truffle!) just on the lids bit. And it really did work rather well - not ghostly, but it softened the Truffle shade and made it more graduated on the eyelid, with less of a stark demarcation between eyeshadow and not. And I know that is going to sound an utterly ridiculous kind of discovery to any makeup aficionados out there, but it just goes to show that you can go decades in complete ignorance of a quite fundamental technique in one's beauty MO. Oh, and being on a bit of a roll I also bought my first standalone eyeshadow brush this week(!), as I had also just learnt that a brush is so much nicer than those sponge-tipped apologies for applicators I have only used all my life, hehe.

'Bare' to the left and 'Truffle' to the right!

A bath hat lightbulb moment

Speaking of washing, this next discovery is even more laughable - and reprehensible - than the one about 'washes' of pale colour on eyelids. You see for years and years I have not properly attended to my forehead. Not in terms of moisturising, for sure. And even my washing of it has been a bit haphazard, and tending to coincide with hair washing days. Which in fairness is quite often. All because of my fringe, you see, which would get either greasy or wet or both at the drop of a hat. But the other night it dawned on me that if I actually wore a hat I could have easy access to my forehead without my hair getting in the way. There's always a plastic bath hat swiped from a hotel to hand, so I promptly put it on and proceeded to involve my whole face in my skincare routine. I wouldn't sleep in a bath hat, mind, so you still have the problem of how to apply night cream or facial oil without getting it in the fringe. I guess you could wait till it had soaked in, but life's too short for that, and I am usually eager to get off to bed by that point. So there is still some figuring out to do...

Have you made any completely basic and obvious skincare or makeup discoveries late in life? 

Or do you have any ablution aberrations or other unhygienic habits to mention?

No obligation to 'fess up to either, as long as don't make me feel any more foolish and ashamed than I  already do for mine. ;)

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Super Facialist Una Brennan Rose Hydrate Peaceful Skin Night Cream and The Body Shop Vitamin E Nourishing Night Cream: you hunt for ages for one Holy Grail, pampering, non-stinging night cream you can put round your eyes, then two come along at once!

Greece, 1990, after a hard day's unprotected sunbathing
Given that it is still just into the New Year, I thought I would allow myself one skincare post before carrying on with the normal fare on Bonkers. Especially as my 2am googling of night creams has since borne promising fruit. Although I have arguably added mm to my crow's feet and several shades to my under-eye dark shadows by being up that late in the first place.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been searching for ages for a night cream that is within my budget (ideally under £15 in my head), suitable for oily skin and for layering over nocturnally applied serums - should that be sera? - that also feels luxurious and pampering, thick but not too cloying, and which would also crucially be safe for use on the delicate eye area.

I should perhaps backtrack and explain that my eye area has been woefully neglected most of my adult life. Till last Christmas to be exact, by which time I was already 55, and - as I have remarked before - the skincare stable door was firmly closed and the collagen long since bolted. To give you a bit of background (and please feel free to skip this next bit if you know it already), when I was young I was a real sun worshipper - I was actually asked for my passport when taking  my finals, albeit in rather un-pc jest. I wore Factor 2 at best till I was about 33, and only switched up to a staggeringly sun-obliterating Factor 8, as it seemed to me, because I was going to Australia for a month, and that was the lowest factor on sale over there.

I should also 'fess up that I didn't moisturise at all till I was in my 40s, mainly because my lodger had told me that L'Oreal cream was made from minced deer's hoohahs, but also because night creams used to migrate into your eyes in those days and sting like hell. I genuinely think that the products themselves have improved no end since the start of what should have been the formative years of my skincare regime, which of course they flagrantly weren't. So there was all of that...and then to add insult to injury, I fell asleep in the sun when I was 41 and both eyelids promptly ballooned and went bright red and twice as angry. If ex-Mr Bonkers hadn't inquired whether I wanted a cup of tea at one point they might well have exploded. And from that day forward I never put my face in the sun again, and took tentative steps towards wearing some kind of moisturiser, some of the time. On some of my face. But it was only last Christmas, as I say, that I really got a complete skincare regime together, which is now pretty much set. Happy to do a post on that some time if it would be of interest to anyone, but it is such a personal / variable thing I assumed it wouldn't, while the products I am featuring here have more general relevance.

1977, and a rare occasion of not exposing maximum skin to sun 

So, if failing to look after your delicate eye area were a criminal offence, I would surely be sentenced to life without parole - and with my meagre prison earnings I would barely be able to scrape enough funds together to buy a pocket tub of Astral to offset the creeping crepey-ness around my eyes, and other assorted ravages of time.

Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure I can reveal that a pocket tub of Astral was what I was using as my 'comfort layer' at night up until now, following the advice that if you apply serum as well, the main role of a night cream is to soothe and moisturise rather than to deliver extra anti-ageing benefits, though it may do that too. And you can even add a few drops of a facial oil to your moisturiser - thus it was that I occasionally sexed up the Astral with a sample of REN rose oil to give it a more high end scent at least. But Astral, allegedly the go-to emollient of Joanna Lumley, and which certainly seems to have served her well if that is all she's been using ;), is a bit rich for my liking, and has a slightly disconcerting smell of lanolin. I have just checked and it also has 'lanolin alcohol', whatever that is. Who knew that sheep came with integral stills! Anyway, my reading on the beauty blogs suggests that alcohol is not a great thing to put on even the oiliest of skins, so it was probably time to move on...

And it didn't take me long to identify two creams that  seemed to fit the bill - one in a Guardian article by beauty wonder guru Sali Hughes, and one I don't rightly remember where, but a beauty blog or news organ of some repute. And as you may have inferred from the title, these are firstly:

Super Facialist Una Brennan Rose Hydrate Peaceful Skin Night Cream (normally £16.99 but I got it on the Boots website for £9.99!)

I was drawn to the Super Facialist cream, which I have no idea how best to abbreviate though it desperately needs contracting!, firstly by the fact that it was created by a skincare expert - albeit a rather elusive one - secondly by the inclusion of a rose scent, which is very natural and realistic, and thirdly by the reference to 'peaceful skin'. Who wouldn't want their skin to be at peace, even if the rest of me struggles to sleep past 5am because of the kitten pummelling my head. Plus my skin really deserves to be at peace after 40 years of such sustained self-abuse.

The feel on my skin of the Super Facialist cream is luxurious, yet light and 'moist'. It smells quite lovely - the rose scent has that faintly metallic twang reminiscent of niche perfumes showcasing the note. It also leaves my skin very soft - the sort of sensation you would expect from a much more expensive product. And crucially I can put it on my eyes, which helps my whole (slightly hooded) upper eye area feel a little less taut and stretched when I wake up.

Oh, this may be one article where I read about the cream, and it mentions the inclusion of hyaluronic acid, rosehip, cucumber and willow, which together are good for hydration and elasticity. The anti-ageing ingredients are a bonus, as I say, given that I mainly rely on serums for that aspect of my nocturnal regime.

Caroline Hirons rates the Super Facialist line generally too, I see, and suspects the brand is some kind of a joint venture with Boots, limiting its appeal to UK-based readers, unfortunately. She describes it as a 'good priced range, and the products are for the most part, good'. And like my friend Gillie in the last post, Caroline Hirons is also not given to insincere blandishments. ;)

Then I also bought this, on the basis that I might get lucky with one out of the two, yet I like it just as much!:

The Body Shop Vitamin E Nourishing Night Cream (£13, and Sali Hughes' top budget recommendation)

Sali Hughes calls this one 'pampering and gently moisturising' and I would agree with that. The texture is denser and the colour faintly pink tinged - unless that is just the reflection off the label - with a subtle and delicate scent that I really like, and predictably couldn't possibly describe. Sali recommends it for 'all but oily skins', and I'd say it is not too rich at all for me. I guess my skin type could best be summed up as:

Combination / acne-prone / dehydrated / mature - and sometimes sensitive!

And though it might not seem that I conducted much research before lighting on these night creams, I have certainly tried and rejected a ton of such products in the past, including all sorts of less well known brands you find in T K Maxx, like Lange and Dr Lewinn, as well as the usual sub-£10 drugstore suspects from Nivea, Garnier, Boots, Aldi et al. Now I did nearly spring for the Olay Regenerist All Night Recovery Cream @ £21 odd, on the basis that I love the Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerist Serum, which I get for less than a tenner by buying bottles with Greek writing on them off Amazon. The associated night cream was also highly rated by Sali Hughes in the same article as The Body Shop one. But most of the many night creams I have tried had an annoyingly cheap / pungent scent, or were too expensive, or felt too rich or sticky or got into my eyes and stung. Which is of course precisely why I didn't wear night cream all those years...

And I have now finally decoded 'avoid contact with eye area', which may have unwittingly put me off a bunch of other possible contenders, because both the above products do in fact urge you to do this. I have decided that they are merely covering their backs, because if anyone's eye area is delicate it would be mine, and trust me when I say that these creams are extremely benign. So what the manufacturers must really mean is 'don't go sticking this in your eye per se', which is an altogether different matter, presupposing high levels of clumsiness and/or very big fingers. The creams certainly don't wander in there of their own accord.

So I would be interested to learn from readers of any more benign night cream recs you might have, ideally in the sub-£15 range (or $21.59 for readers Stateside ;) ). Therein lies the challenge I sense...