Wednesday, 9 January 2019

January is the cruellest month, with no more leaves: aka French house - the sequel

View from upstairs - denuded of leaves!
I have just come back from an extraordinary week, which has been a wild ride on every level - physically, mentally, and emotionally - in both good and bad ways! It has been perplexing and nerve-wracking, uncomfortable, exciting, funny, character building, exhausting, frustrating, and ultimately satisfying. And I have cycled through all those emotions and more, sometimes in the space of an hour(!).

For I have just spent a week in France preparing for the acquisition of my house in the 'within spitting distance of the Dordogne', and then putting certain things in place - from a water account in my name, to a radiator in a bedroom - once I was officially the owner.

I will keep this account thematic, as has become my wont in travel reports, kicking off with a little flavour of the house's story, followed by my own.

The house - a two up, one down detached property (plus an attic with lots of potential!), and dating from 1850 or thereabouts - was in the hands of the vendor's family for some 44 years all told: initially lived in full-time by her parents-in-law, from 1974 till their death around the turn of the century, and then adopted as a holiday home by the vendor and her husband for a few more years. Whereupon they decided they liked the village so much that they bought the much bigger, grander house next door and took up permanent residence there, while my house-to-be languished unoccupied for the next 15 years or so till I walked through the door last Friday. Interestingly, the woman who sold it in 1974 to the vendor's family did so because she was also buying a bigger, grander house...right behind my house! So you can see it is well used to being surrounded by its former owners, haha.

House at its saddest-looking, now the wisteria has died back!
The journey out

I am surprised to report that the journey out to France was somewhat eventful...First off, and most uncharacteristically, I genuinely forgot to lock my car in the long stay car park (as opposed to paranoically imagining as much), and enlisted the help of a shuttle bus driver to take me there and keep his engine running while I legged it over to do the biz. Back at the airport, I was subjected to a hard sell by the lady in the Jo Malone concession of the Duty Free, who was determined to sell me a 30ml bottle of something, thinking I couldn't possibly resist the 20% discount versus normal retail. I managed to escape without a purchase and just a spritz of Peony & Blush Suede, which I rather regretted, and wished I'd gone for Mimosa & Cardamom instead.

Once on board, I was pleased to see that my row companions were two adults of roughly my own age. As I explained to them, I am almost always seated next to babies and small children. "He's a bit childish, actually", said the woman, nudging her husband in the ribs. Then within a few minutes both the row across the aisle and the one diagonally opposite were suddenly full of very young children, luckily engrossed in that modern opiate of the child-friendly tablet.


I turned to the couple, and mumbled ruefully: "See...I spoke too soon."

Then while listening to the first officer's spiel over the tannoy, I clocked that one of the flight attendants was called Vanessa. I have never met another Vanessa in person, and decided to make myself known to her, even though I was travelling under the name of Kathryn. However, when she approached with the duty free trolley, I noticed she was sporting a gigantic spangly pink bow in her hair, and decided to pass on this particular Vanessa, even if another were never to come by.

At the French end, there was no sign of any luggage, despite our planeload waiting patiently for a good half an hour by the disconcertingly static carousel. At last a cry went up: "The belt is broken - the bags are coming in the lift!" Shortly afterwards I could see my case a few tantalising feet away just beyond the passport control queue. I went to grab it, but was told to go back, as people were not allowed to walk in front of the passport desks. Eventually a baggage handler made a three sides of a square sign to me over the heads of the queue, which I realised was an instruction to go out of the baggage hall and nip back again via a staff-only corridor to the rear of the lift, where my bag was indeed waiting, and legitimately grabbable.

The bears huddle together for bodily warmth

January is the cruellest month

The single most striking thing to mention about the whole week was the cold...damp, bone-chilling, freezing, bitter, bitter cold. With an occasional side of fog. I had to defrost the car every morning, and even in my Airbnb accommodation, which had probably seen no visitors since the summer and was heated purely by a single mobile radiator, I typically wore two vests, a top, a jumper, a sloppier jumper on top of that, and a TV blanket I had brought with me, slung over my shoulders. And often got under the covers of the bed to boot, even in the day! My own house, though, was a whole other level of coldness - it was like my garage in winter...a building with a roof and walls that manages to feel inside as though you were outside. This was doubtless due to neither being heated. I've never known a domestic interior that 'nippy', but was determined to make it through to the end of my stay in my own home, if it was humanly possible!

No sockets, so no heating in Bedroom 2!
Small world...twilight zone

There were two odd coincidences during my stay, which reminded me of the goldfish bowl nature of village life. The day before the meeting with the solicitor, I popped into the secondhand shop to buy a tumbler and a couple of dinner plates - or any other accessories that caught my fancy (a swan necked lamp, as it turned out). I had met the shop owner on my previous visit in November, and reminded her who I was, adding that I was about to get the keys to the house. "Were you thinking of staying there, only it's very cold inside?" Noting my puzzled expression, she added: "Oh, it was me that did the furniture clearance for the vendor! Well, apart from the pieces you are buying, that is. In fact I am popping back there this afternoon to have a bit of a sweep round." Well, how very handy...I was able to ask whether the beds I had bought had any mattresses on them, and she assured me they had.

So that was one curious incident. The other happened a couple of days after I got the keys, when I decided to pick up bin bags from the town hall, the usual repository for such things. For anyone using their house as a second home,as I plan to do for the moment, full-blown bins are not deemed necessary. There was a surprising amount of paperwork involved in the procurement of these rubbish bags - of two different colours, no less - one being for recycling. As I was walking out with the rolls tucked under my arm, a lady ran out of the adjacent office, brandishing a pair of reading glasses. "Oh, take these too, could you? They belong to Mme G. You are friends, right?", swiftly followed by a colleague calling after her: "Yes, they are." Mme G being otherwise known in past blog posts as L, she of the house in the same street, with whom I have stayed until I bit the bullet and bought my own French bolthole. ;) I was most impressed that the ladies at the town hall had made the connection between us, and promptly agreed to deliver the proffered specs.

Cold comfort food

This may sound hard to swallow - and it was! - but I went the whole week without access to any hot food. I had a kettle in my Airbnb, and went on to buy one for the house - the only object downstairs, no less - but there is only so much cooking you can do with a kettle. ;) In case you were wondering, there were no restaurants that were both open and within striking distance of my accommodation for the first four nights, or my own house. That's if you discount McDonald's, where I did have a chicken wrap on the night I arrived. The wrap and salad were cold though, and the dressing managed to cool pieces of chicken that were barely lukewarm to start with. It was still very tasty, but I didn't go back. Instead, I lived off cold chicken breasts and bread, bread and Camembert, plus 'main meal salads', comprising some combination of lettuce or pasta with chicken, cheese, ham and egg. I didn't have a fridge in either place, but kept food and milk very satisfactorily on the deck outside my Airbnb and later in the boot of my car.

Al fresco frigo

By the last day, the lack of hot food - on top of the glacial cold wherever I was - was starting to get to me, and I decided to investigate bottled gas options for cooking. There was an old metal gas canister under the sink in my house, long since emptied and disconnected. I had had an electrician come by that afternoon to separate my 'wheat from my chaff' wiring anomalies, and after doing so, he had advised me to get a lighter gas bottle that I could manhandle as a woman on my own, which would handily come with its own regulator and accessories.

Several towns and supermarkets later, I found a 10kg bottle made of plastic, paid 30 euros, and filled in the necessary paperwork (it was the bin bags all over again!), before mauling it home. It was immediately apparent to even a lay person such as myself operating on a purely 'shape sorting' basis, that the coupling pieces supplied were not compatible with my bit of pipe leading to the hob. Several YouTube videos later, I decided to ditch a few of the accessories and take the bold and possibly dangerous step(!) of making a more direct connection between pipe and regulator...and hey presto, I managed to get three of the four burners alight. The other may be kaput, or just playing 'hard to ignite'. Then it suddenly dawned on me that I had no saucepan. Ah well, there's always next time...

Source: Chronodrive


During the week I wore perfume every day, and in the absence of any company, it created a morale-boosting backdrop to my more or less gruelling doings. From memory the order was:

Day 1: Hermes Cedre Sambac
Day 2: Chanel Coromandel
Day 3: Guerlain Plus Que Jamais
Day 4: Mona di Orio Musc
Day 5: Puredistance 1
Day 6: Hermes Myrrhe Eglantine
Day 7: Damien Bash Lucifer #3

I left 3, 4, 5 and 6 behind in the bathroom, as I have more of these back in England. Resident bears, and now perfumes...!

Rolling refinement of my croissant preferences

One of my staple cold food options on this trip was a croissant. I tried croissants from three different boulangeries in all, progressively refining my purchase criteria as I went along. In the first bakery I asked for a croissant that was 'nicely puffed up'. It was pleasingly pneumatic, but suffered from being a bit too brown on top for my liking. So the next time I skipped the puffed up aspect and went for 'golden but not too well done', thinking that one stipulation per purchase was probably as much as I could justify. This one hit the spot pretty well, but could have been a bit more buttery, so in the third boulangerie I spotted croissants specifically described as 'pur beurre' alongside other mere croissants with no descriptor. So I asked for one that was not too well done, the presence of butter already being assured. Unfortunately that was the biggest mistake of all. It was leadenly lardy, and unremittingly flat. Back to the drawing board. Or a pain aux raisins, maybe...?

Pictured below is the most successful croissant of my visit, resting on what appears to be the original font in my house, but which is in fact apparently a sink.

Add caption

Unexpectedly noisy appliances

For a house which was virtually empty, the few things already in there managed to make a disproportionate amount of noise. This struck me as amusing, given how I had always associated my stays in the village with the most profound silence imaginable, give or take the odd owl or pigeon. However, that was while staying in L's house - my own turned out to have its own orchestra. For as soon as I stepped over the threshold, I could detect a piteous cheeping sound from not one but two smoke detectors. They had not been tested in years, and now their batteries were clearly failing. I took them both off the wall, but they carried on bleeping wherever I put them. If I consigned them to the car, they would only annoy other residents or passers by. So there was nothing for it but to take them immediately all the way to a DIY superstore, where I purchased a screwdriver and a pack of batteries, constantly apologising to other shoppers for the cacophonous contents of my carrier bag.

And then there was the panel heater in the main bedroom...the only heat source in the entire house...because - you've guessed it! - in the past 20 years no one has stayed there out of season. I had the heater on night and day on various settings, topped up by a small mobile radiator I had had the foresight to buy before getting access to the house, having of course been tipped off that it would be perishing inside. At night the heater didn't let up making percussive noises - partly clicking noises as described in the snippet below from a heating website, but also something more akin to the 'boing-boing' / 'clang clang'effect you can get from flexing a sheet of metal, not that I have done so lately.

"However, because the radiator body is made of aluminium, clicking noises can sometimes occur. These are caused by the expansion of the aluminium as the radiator heats up, but don’t worry – clicking does not indicate a fault on the unit."

Hmm, looking at this article, it seems my heater may also have issues with its mounting brackets and screws, compounding the 'natural' noises made by expanding and contracting.

"They're designed to create heat, not function as a one-man band!"

Haha, my heater definitely has pretensions in that direction, but to be fair I was so grateful for its warmth that I bunged some ear plugs in and let it do its thing.

Another job on the list for next time, along with fixing a flooding toilet(!), having the all-pervasive damp downstairs surveyed, essential wiring done, planing down the front door and shutters that stick, and jet washing the bright green algae off the rendering. (I have innumerable scary photos of all these offending items, but can't bring myself to post them. Suffice to say that in the hall, for example, there is a bit of a distressed, 'King's Speech room' look going on - and that is being kind. ;) ) Oh, and getting a fridge, as I may not be able to rely on the weather being quite so chilly next time...

My various light fittings were mercifully silent!

Clearing character reference hurdles

At the meeting with the solicitor, right before I was declared to be 'owner' of the house in the same congratulatory tone in which vicars pronounce the happy couple 'man and wife', I was told that I had passed the 'condamnation' checks. I inquired as to what these were exactly, and learnt that there is a register in France of anyone who has owned property in the past and abused their status of being a home owner in some way. For example, by sticking 20 desperate migrants in their house in squalid conditions, in a money-making modern slavery scenario. Seemingly there is no evidence of my having been condemned for such misdemeanours. On hearing this news we all laughed, and the vendor turned to me and smiled, watching for my reaction. "Ooh", I replied facetiously, "that's given me an idea now..."

"They wish it could be Christmas every day"

Both the town where I stayed before completing on the house, and a couple of neighbouring ones where I went in search of bedding and the gas bottle, set a lot of store by the celebration of Christmas. There were the usual light displays, but in the town where I stayed the first four nights there was also piped music in the streets...absolutely everywhere! The solicitor explained that they had one CD for the morning, and one for the afternoon, and played them on repeat. It felt odd somehow to be listening to "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" on 4th January, and the festive lights were still up and blazing in the other towns as late as the evening of 7th.

My village was too small to have lights as such, and its showing of Christmas trees - two municipal and two belonging to shop owners - was a little on the sad side. And also still up on 7th Jan!

Phantom perfume shops

Here are two signs that promised much, and delivered little. Well, in terms of actual perfumes that you sniff I mean, 'parfum' also meaning 'flavour' in French of course. So the cafe in the first photo can be forgiven, though it did cause me a disappointed double take as I peered in and spied only bags of coffee and tea on the shelves.

When I peeped through the window of the other shop, I wasn't rightly sure what I was looking at...

Wait, that's definitely a saddle, for of steps...then it is anyone's guess. ;) Ooh, I do believe I spy some municipal issue bin bags!

Taking leave

Then finally the moment had come to shut up the house and drive to the airport. I struggled to secure the shutters with their little metal hooks on account of the way the wood had swollen and was jamming against the sills. The vendor (to whom I entrusted a key) kindly offered to watch out for the shutters banging and flapping in stormy weather, and go inside and sort them out. Then she gave me her card, plus a list of tradespeople her parents-in-law had used to do work on the house. Some of these may realistically be dead now, but you never know, plus they may have descendants. Then in return, I presented the vendor with a photo of her son as a little boy I happened to find in the attic....and the bag of rubbish you see hanging up on a picture hook in the photo below (by arrangement, I should add ;) ).

Vintage pink tiles and sink! 

Even though my house is like an ice box at the moment, and the weather at its absolute gloomiest and most depressing, I was genuinely sorry to leave it. I want to go back at the earliest (clement!) opportunity and have the chimney swept, a wood burner fitted, and warm its cold, damp bones. The house has had no TLC for 20 years or more, and though I can't afford to do everything I'd like to at this stage, the will is most certainly there. And it was precisely because - instead of hi-tailing it to a hotel, as I was so very tempted to do - I stayed there in the depths of winter and toughed it out, that I feel as bonded with the house as I do.

And at the risk of ending on a cheesy note, to quote the Labour party campaign song of 1997: "Things can only get better"...

"Don't remember me like this!"

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Still MIA, mired in more goop, and completely depleted! A patchwork post from me this time...

The Monochrome Paint Tray
Goodness, it is a long time since my last post, but - much like the Brexit talks - I seem to have been on a runaway train of (in my case home improvement) setbacks. The sloping floor issues alluded to in my last post got Very Slopey Indeed, and that floor had to be ripped up not long after it was laid, after being declared 'failed'. Cue purchase of new floor, more goop (brown this time!), another 12 hours straight of fan whirring, more floor laying, and a post mortem with the supplier of Floor No 1, the technical niceties of which I will spare you. And the final upshot of which is some way off.

There was additionally a fair old smattering of plumbing and joinery problems following on immediately behind, though I am thankful that Floor No 2 is showing no signs of legging it on its own, like the last 'floating jigsaw' disaster. If someone offers you a 'click-style' floor Be Very Afraid. I can see that this post may be becoming quite Capitalised, not far off the texts from my sister-in-law's brother, who has his phone settings weirdly turned in such a way as to Capitalise Every Last Darn Word.

The 'before':

That's a big sink!

More 'before':

The blue fishing net is for rescuing mice!

No sooner had the workmen gone off for Christmas, when I succumbed to some kind of winter vomiting bug, which lasted two full days and nights and then a bit, and completely kiboshed my Christmas prep and any social plans last weekend. I was weak and nearly delirious by Christmas Eve from not even keeping water down, and the doctor called me in for tests, to see if I might in fact have food poisoning rather than the Norovirus, say - only I had a very similar 'do', you see, earlier this month. A friend kindly ran me there, as I would not have passed the: 'Are you too ill to pick up a twenty quid note from the bottom of the drive?' test, never mind make my own way to the surgery.

I turned a corner finally on Christmas Day itself, but lost a couple of days and all their concomitant Facebook posts and depressing news bulletins, crowds in Asda, futile hunts for cranberry sauce at this very late stage, seriously discounted Christmas cards, and what have you. Moreover, I was meant to be on stuffing and veg duty in a combined effort Christmas meal with two friends, but by the time I felt more myself, the shops were well and truly closed. I felt decidedly sheepish showing up to the meal without having contributed to its making after all, but that is just how my recovery worked out, honest!

Oh, and I did manage to spritz on a bit of By Kilian's Amber Oud on Christmas night, as I promised Undina I would. She has kindly given me samples of this at least twice now. ;) And if you haven't already seen it, Truffle makes a cameo appearance in the latest post on Undina's Looking Glass, as Undina celebrates Rusty's 10th birthday and features a gallery of other pets in Perfumeland. I must say that Truffle looks particularly imperious in the photo Undina has chosen. The highlights for me in her post were Rusty powering through the paper hats, and a little dog with unfeasibly huge ears. But yes, I did wear my designated scent last night, and very wintery and comforting it was too.

Source: Lucky Scent

But generally of late perfume has been a little distant from my mind. I am not ready to park Bonkers - though the thought has certainly occurred to me - but I shall be in this distracted phase for a while yet, with the French house completion in the early New Year (whee!), and a lot more work to be done on the utility side of this multi-tasking utility/shower room. The other wall is a truly fantastical tangle of cables and pipes, with random bits of wood here and there and splodges of white and red paint (not pictured ;) ).

The 'during' (snatching a brief window of opportunity between Floors 1 and 2!):

The 'so far' (skirting boards and window sills, mirror etc to come, plus a few remaining fixes / bodges here and there, the need for which I am hoping you won't notice):

Now in 1995, it so happens that I did a research project on applications for curved glass of various kinds, and predicted that the curved shower enclosure market in particular would be huge...and was proved right! I was even offered a full time job on the back of it, though I didn't want my life to be all about glass any more than I wanted it to be all about coleslaw a decade before. And now for the first time, 23 years on, I have such a shower of my own...;)

Going back to the time when I was ill, Nurse Truffle kept up her usual devoted vigil, spending a good 90% of her time night and day either in or on my bed. She only ever does that when something is wrong with me, because as we have discussed in previous posts, Cats Know. There I go again. Italicised caps, no less. The downside of her coming and going at will is that the white duvet cover is now well and truly decorated with muddy paw marks, and despite three washings I cannot get the blessed things out. I may need bio rather than non-bio washing powder, come to think of it. Anyway, I do kind of forgive her, as she was so attentive, washing my eyes, nose, and cheeks periodically as she saw fit. Here she is, checking out the clean sheets post-recovery.

Echoes of The Handmaid's Tale?

In other Christmas news, ex-Mr Bonkers was on national telly three times in a week, playing bass with Roy "I wish it could be Christmas every day" Wood, my tinsel on him. This means the tinsel has made it onto four out of five terrestrial channels now...cracking BBC2 is proving more of a challenge. This year I have told ex-Mr B he can keep the tinsel, as I don't normally have a use for the big furry red strands he favours.

Live on The Last Leg

And you won't be surprised to hear that I couldn't possibly do any kind of New Year's perfume round up, as I used to do in the old days on Bonkers, because I am barely aware of what is coming out on the market anymore, unless I am sent it, or one of my blogger mates grabs me and says: 'Try this!' Also, most revealingly, I did not jump on my copy of the latest edition of Perfumes: The Guide, as I did with the one from 2008, when I was first mad for the stuff. Instead, I had a bit of a flick through when it arrived, looking up some of my fave fragrances from recent years (such as I could even remember!) and glancing at anything that happened to catch my eye. But since then the book has languished untouched on a side table. I find the plethora of releases frankly too overwhelming, and my own interest has waned, I cannot deny it, from its frenetic early phase. I still love fragrance, I still help friends locally find 'the one' - or one possible 'the one' more like - I wear perfume more often than not, though perhaps a bit more 'not' lately, and it will always be a thread in my life to some degree.

That all said, I do see myself as a fading character - if 'character' is not overstating it - in the blogosphere. Yes, I feel I am slipping away gradually from the scene, and that is okay. There are newer, more passionate bloggers than me taking up the mantle, who have the energy and drive - and who may well have just as much chaos in their home lives to boot, but if so they are better at managing it, haha - or more professional in compartmentalising their lives, maybe. I am not gone yet though, and there are perfume posts I have up my sleeve, it is just that I cannot bring myself to write most of them at the moment. For I like to write about what is uppermost in my mind there and then. And that so often used to be perfume, but it isn't right now...So we will see.

I am not so distracted though that I wasn't very sad to learn of the passing of the great, maverick perfumer, Vero Kern. Val of APJ was her good friend and 'brand ambassador', and will miss her keenly I know. I met Vero just the once in 2015, for afternoon tea at Zurich railway station, and was struck by her lack of airs and graces, and how she ploughed her own high quality and very personal furrow amidst the welter of cookie cutter dross. We spoke in a comedy mix of English and German, and she said that she liked the fact that she never knew whether I would review a new scent of hers or not - and if I did, she knew it might not be till ages after its release - which seemed to amuse her. Of her work, I liked the Mitos best, but am also curiously partial to Rozy Voile d'Extrait, and Rubj on a very 'bosomy' day. I don't have too many of those, to be fair.

Note that I was so overawed to meet Vero that I only took a photograph of her feet and little dog, whose name I can never spell, so always gloss over.

Out of interest, I looked to see what I had posted around this date some years ago,to contrast where I was then versus now. Here is a perfume report from Paris in 2011, for example, featuring JAR Parfums.

Eight years ago I linked to a guest post I wrote for Cafleurebon(!) on perfume gift giving.

While this year I am mired in goop of every hue and throwing up, haha. Which, interestingly, I believe is also known as 'Huey'. Hue knew?

But as Val also says, 'this too shall pass'. She's very wise, our Val.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

MIA and mired in goop: a patchwork post from would-be collaborators!

Sorry for yet another hiatus between posts...there seems to have been a lot going on in my life on various fronts. I am still hugely distracted by the home renovations, which have been a case yet again of one step forward, several steps back, with more 'sudden death' least worst decisions at every turn. I said to the tiler yesterday: 'Whatever would you do if I wasn't here? You know, if I was at work?' 'I'd ring often as necessary!' he replied, quick as a flash.

This past couple of days we have had different lots of goop - the 'goop of the day' is pictured below. One lot was black, one lot was grey, yet I was warned that the latter might turn Truffle's paws blue. Yes, it has been a challenge to say the least to keep her off the affected areas, yet it was actually me that ended up prematurely stepping on the floor yesterday and sinking into the quagmire in one particularly slow drying spot. A case of the Hollywood Utility of Fame, you might say. Or maybe not. Then the front room is full of all my laundry paraphernalia, along with the fascia of the shower tray, which must be allowed to rest in state in its natural curved position(!); the dining room is crammed with white goods diaspora, and there is nowhere frankly to be, and to feel comfortable and at home. I tell myself it will be lovely in the end, though my floors are still insufficiently level to meet the spec of the flooring system being used (for a variety of insurmountable and/or unforeseeable reasons with which I shan't trouble you), such that there is a very real risk it will ride up, peel, separate, move, or undulate underfoot as soon as the fitter has gone. Not for nothing do they call it a 'floating' system...

The other thing that has consumed a lot of my attention lately is knitting, which I know is not of interest to some (or most!) readers. I sold quite a lot of my woolly wares at my friend Gillie's Open House pottery event the other weekend, the money from which will come in very handy in the absence of any work at the moment. I went on a wool replacement buying spree after the weekend, laying waste to my PayPal balance, which always feels like free money, and have been gleefully opening package after package of jewelled balls of yarn.

One particular obsession is with the brand Scheepjes, which has named every shade after a different Dutch town. I am slowly collecting examples from every colour family (and part of The Netherlands!) like a demented magpie, leading Tara of A Bottled Rose to remind me that this current urge with adding to my wool stash was 'like Farrow & Ball tester pots all over again'. She is spot on there!  

I still have outstanding knitted commissions - and am always on the lookout for others ;) - all of which has meant that I have not been feeling like writing the blog. Perfume generally seems quite far down my list of preoccupations at the moment, though I do still wear it at least every other day. I have a number of perfume related posts in mind, even, but they are simply not ready to come out...

So then I had the bright idea that I would share with you instead some of the recent communications I have had from companies who write to my blog email address, asking me to collaborate in some shape or form. The inquiries really are quite varied as you will see, and I will try to group them thematically.

Would-be guest writers

"I'm a fan of your site and feel like you cover the hunting space very well. I'm writing to see if you accept guest content."

The hunting space???

Product plugs / review requests 

"Pure Hemp Plus is a range of natural oils and honeys containing cannabidiol or CBD...Might this be something you would kindly consider covering at all? As a how to regain balance during Christmas Party season perhaps, or how to get through ones daily commute?"

I think Val has the drugs angle nicely covered in her Strange Tales series, thank you. ;)

"My name is Kelsey and I work in the marketing department at I'm writing to you because I came across the content on your website, and I really enjoyed your writing style....we have created a guide on eco-friendly travel and how to keep the Earth enjoyable for our children, and our children's children! I was writing to see if you would be interested in sharing this post on your page. You can find the post here:"

I find the capitalisation of CheapOair oddly unsettling, never mind its irrelevance to perfume, though it is true that I travel a fair bit. Also, I have no children.

"I wanted to reach out to you to see if you'd be interested in receiving a review copy of (perfumer's) new book."

You lost me at "reach out".

"We had contacted you earlier because we believe your website visitors would benefit from knowing about Have you had a chance to look at our new site yet? Not only do we offer a database of furniture from major retailers, but we also have a daily updated local Sales Finder to help users find the best deals in their area. You can check out our Sales Finder here:"

My reply: "I am blocked from access to your website, as I outside California. Moreover, most of my readers are. Plus it is a perfume website, albeit the odd reader in California may conceivably be on the lookout for a sofa."

"I hope you’re well and having a wonderful week so far? I just wanted to get in touch as I wanted to see if you were interested in reviewing a beloved fragrance of the 60’s, for any upcoming fragrance features...If you have fond memories of being young and carefree, this fragrance will have you feeling a sense of nostalgia. But also for those who weren’t born in the 60’s/70’s you can also embody the era with the gorgeous scent."

You lost me at "wonderful week". Also repetition of "wanted". And your efforts to cover all bases demographically are somewhat transparent.

Requests for participation on other sites

"Without wasting any of your time, I wanted to ask if you'd be interested in sharing your favourite tip to making money online for a huge post I'm writing."

What money online? Does he mean selling my stuff on eBay?

Unusual invitations 

"We would love to invite you to attend an immersive experience with (perfume brand)."

I am feeling immersed enough as it is, thank you.

"This is just a gentle reminder to let you know that we will be hosting the first 'Third Thursday' poetry reading event in (perfume brand's) 'Poet' store, in Westfield White City this Thursday evening.

Even if I didn't live 160 miles away from White City, I would in principle decline any invitation which was accompanied by "gentle reminders". Also, "first Third Thursday" sounds like a contradiction in terms, though on reflection it is indeed possible.

"Will you be attending Pitti Fragranze this Fall?"

No, and not next year either,  or any year! 

Miscellaneous gibberish

"I went through your blog in detail and found that you are actively creating contents on your blog."

Do some blogs have inactively created contents then? Or no contents?

"I am Jack from Coshow Cosmetics Company, as a professional OEM/ODM cosmetics manufacturer in Shanghai, China. With the best quality products, competitive price and timely delivery have being stable cooperation with some ." (sic, including intriguing ending)

Can you tell I am preoccupied, hehe? ;)

Back to my sloping floor issue...

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Palindromes and French leave(s)

Topic advisory: this isn't a post about perfume, if any readers are selective in that regard. It isn't about make up or skincare or my travels with the band either, though it does have a travel theme. For this week I flew to France to sign a 'compromis de vente' - which approximates to a sales agreement, and is the first legal step in buying a house over there. In property purchase terms it could best be likened to an engagement perhaps - I have to go back later for the marriage itself(!), or 'acte authentique de vente' (deed of sale).

You may well ask how all this came about, for I realise it sounds rather sudden - impulsive even. Well, I have stayed with my friend L in her house in the Correze - a hop and a skip from the Dordogne - for the past three summers, and documented two of these holidays on the blog, eg here. I did actually say even on my first visit two years ago that it felt like coming home. Then this summer a little house popped up for sale a few doors down her street. We had two viewings with the estate agent, and a few weeks later, after consulting a dozen or so friends and associates with experience of owning property overseas, or of legal or financial matters or big life decisions generally - in short, people endowed with a good dollop of common sense as I did not want my friends to act simply as an echo chamber - I put an offer in which was accepted. Including the solicitor's and estate agent's fees (the buyer pays the latter here!), plus taxes and some furniture, the price comes out at just over £40,000. You could buy three such houses for the price of a small terrace in Stafford, so it seemed like a bargain I couldn't let slip away - that was certainly the consensus of the people I spoke to who already had houses in France.

The house last summer

As a holiday home I am well aware that it would be rather a luxury, so all being well, I hope to move there full-time when I finally retire, and to keep the place ticking over meanwhile in terms of running costs. I am not ready to emigrate yet, as I have all sorts of ties still in Blighty. Plus my economic status at the moment is too shaky for me to be allowed to stay in France for more than three months of the year - with my current level of earnings I would be considered a burden on the state. That all changes, however, once I hit 66 and am in receipt of a state pension. At that point the French government considers it quite normal for a person to be 'economically inactive'(!), and takes a more benign view of immigrants and the minimum income they must bring with them.

The other day - those shutters need a lick of lead-free paint! (see below)

To fund the purchase I broke into a long term investment product I had previously considered strictly as a pension pot. I do see this as forward planning for my retirement though. Yes, the whole thing feels a bit as though I were a student who accidentally falls pregnant at university and decides to keep the baby and muddle through her studies somehow, in the hope that it will all come good in the end. A case of the right decision at the wrong time you could say. But there again, if I set out to look for a house in seven years' time, specifically in my friend's village, never mind her street, I might look in vain - or find something, but not be able to afford it. So I decided to take the plunge, secure my retirement home now, and put it behind my ear for later. Or rather use it as a holiday home to be going on with, and as an opportunity to gradually find out more about the ins and outs of living in France. I did spend an academic year on the Riviera as it happens, teaching English in a school, but that was forty years ago!, so things will surely have changed since then. And I didn't own a home, obviously, so there will be much to learn. As ex-Mr Bonkers' mother advised, my MO will be one of 'creep and go'.

So that is the background...and here is some more on the trip itself...

I had bagged a cheap flight from Bristol to Limoges, and there was the usual mayhem and ground-to-a-halt chaos on the roads around Birmingham, topped off with gridlock in Bristol itself, the centre of which seemed to have been entirely dug up! Then I was next to a baby on the plane, as is always the way - I attract them as a magnet does iron filings - though to the infant's credit it slept much of the flight. At the other end I picked up a gratifyingly tiny hire car, and an hour and a half later was installed in the simple but well appointed studio accommodation I had booked through Airbnb. It was located at the back of the owners' garage, and my hostess kindly showed me a labyrinthine route from my flat to their quarters, in case I was 'ill in the night'.

My studio accommodation

The house was situated on a long residential road, high above the little town where the solicitor's office was, and where I was due to do the deed in a couple of days' time. Or not the deed deed, but the earlier one I mentioned, obvs. ;) After unpacking my bulging Ryanair-compliant hand luggage, I scurried down a steep, pitch black road in the general direction of the lights below, and once I reached town, soon ascertained that all the supermarkets shut on the dot of 7.30pm, and I had no supplies bar an apple. Luckily, the barman at the one hotel in town stepped into the breach and sold me a litre of UHT milk at cost price, and I also scored a warm pizza slice from the bakery just as it was closing.

The patio outside my studio

The next day I had a productive meeting with that traditional tourist mecca, the water board(!), about how to read the meter at the point of handover from one owner to another. I was even given different models of meter to study, so that I knew which numbers were which on any possible design I might encounter. I also met two lovely ladies at the office of a big French insurance company. One of them normally works mornings in a little branch just behind my house-to-be. 'Oh, we will be neighbours!' she remarked brightly. I am strongly inclined to place my business with her, because at least five times a week she will be able to check my house hasn't burnt down or the roof blown off. It is in her interest to keep an eye on it, after all, to preempt any claims on my side. ;)

After extensive reconnoitring, I can tell you that this little town where the solicitor is boasts not one but two opticians - unless I was seeing double? - a book shop, an abattoir, a wine merchant, a manufacturer of duvet fillings, a flour mill...and that blessed endangered species, a wool shop. Of course I had to go and patronise it, and bought a ball of wool to make wristwarmers with. When I went back a couple of days later, the owner remembered me and said she hoped I wasn't after any more of the same yarn, only someone had been in that morning and snapped it all up! Luckily I was after a different colour...

Autumn in all its mellow yellowness

After custom buying a few French foodstuffs for friends, and before I went back up the hill to my digs, I couldn't resist a peep in the windows of two estate agents to check I hadn't missed any other local property gems. But no, I am happy to report that there was nothing that could remotely have swayed me from my choice...

The next morning I had an early appointment at the bank in 'my' village, to finalise the paperwork required to open an account. I handed over 75 euros to get it started, and ordered a debit card. The bank clerk sent a temporary access code to my mobile so that I could manage my account online, and seemed frankly astonished that it reached my UK number with a few moments' delay. The last time I had a French bank account - in Cannes in 1979 - there were no such things as debit cards or cash dispensers, and I only had a cheque book instead. I wasn't offered a cheque book on this occasion, times having moved on!

The solicitor's office

Then it was back to the town where I was staying, and at noon in the solicitor's waiting room I met the estate agent and the vendor (who lives opposite the house I am buying - it was she and her late husband's holiday home till they retired and moved to the village full-time, rendering it redundant).

The meeting was held in a grand office with extremely tall windows. It was conducted in French, though the estate agent was on hand to help if I got stuck on anything. While the solicitor nipped out to the photocopier, I mentioned to the others the random trivia fact that the date of 8.11.18 was a palindrome - well, it is if you budge the numerals up a bit as you go backwards - which seemed to make the occasion even more momentous.

I have bought this bed and chairs!

The only word I had to ask the meaning of in the event was the one for asbestos, which had come up in the French equivalent of a survey. Which fortunately I don't have, along with a very low risk of earthquakes, flooding, industrial pollution, landslides, subsidence, and unsympathetic new developments. There are, however, highish levels of radon gas in the area, though not especially in the village. The solicitor, who was born here, pretended to be alarmed about this, and said she hoped she would live long enough to complete our conveyancing. Then I also learnt that I am termite- and dry rot-free, but there are traces of lead in the exterior paint used on the house - so no sucking the window frames, then, as Val the Cookie Queen observed. And the survey also threw up a few 'electrical anomalies', though to be fair I am still discovering the full gamut of electrical anomalies in my house here in Stafford, six years on. As luck would have it, the next day I bumped into one of the two recommended electricians in the village. I told him about my 'anomalies', and he gave me his card, looked reassuringly unfazed, and said that as soon as I was ready he'd pop up and take a look.

The house gives good door

Yes, the community feeling I sensed in the village and neighbouring town where I stayed - after three days of not even being a home owner - was remarkable. The lady in the second hand shop explained how to convert an old fashioned linen cupboard into a conventional wardrobe with the aid of a glide rail or two, and offered to keep an eye out for one for me. She can also organise a van to take away any furniture left behind in the house I don't want to keep, which will go to charity.

 And on my last night, my Airbnb host invited me to join her and her husband in the main house to 'wet the sales agreement's head' (roughly translated ;) ) with champagne and canapes. There was a moment of utter confusion when the husband pointed out that a log in the grate looked like a 'chevreuil' (deer), which I got mixed up with 'chevrefeuille' (honeysuckle), prompting me to make an inane comment about its having a sweet smell. We had a wide ranging conversation which covered patchwork families, Brexit, young (and not so young!) people's obsession with selfies, the weather, the soil, views on incomers, tradesmen tips and much more. I learnt the words for 'chimney sweep', 'loophole' and 'up your own a**e'. I do need a chimney sweep as it happens, and am sure I will have much recourse to the 'a**e' phrase. When I retired to my studio two hours later, I felt pleasantly squiffy and not really hungry, so I ended up having my microwavable ham and cheese crepe - and as many other random leftovers as I could force down me - for breakfast the next morning.

I will be back soon, and though it is a while before I would begin to contemplate living here full-time for the reasons I explained, this trip has already had a profound effect. I do believe I could settle there quite nicely, even though the pace of life is very, very slow. My host summed up the village where I am buying with the comment: 'Some nice houses, but a bit dead', adding: 'I guess it depends what you like really!' I would sum up the people in the area as down to earth, warm and kind, and as long as you are not up your own 'a**e' you will fit right in.

So yes, sorry this is far away from perfume - that said, I can report that I wore Aroma M Geisha Botan on the signing day! - but it is a major thing going on in my life at the moment, such that it would have felt odd not to write about it...

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Hallowe'en Bah Humbug, and results of the 9th blog anniversary dishcloth draw!

Where do you stand on Hallowe'en? No really, it is a serious question. Me, I am becoming increasingly Bah Humbug about what I am astonished to learn has become 'our second favourite family celebration behind Christmas'. And that is a headline from The Daily Mail, so it must be true...ahem. I can also feel a creeping Bah Humbugness coming on about Christmas in fact - with its dispiritingly excessive consumerism - so I guess the highly manufactured commercial occasion of Hallowe'en was a natural casualty.

When I was a child growing up in Northern Ireland, Hallowe'en was the only cause for festivities - Guy Fawkes passed us completely by. Instead, we threw ourselves headlong into the serious business of wearing 'false faces' (the Ulsterism for masks), eating toffee apples in the days when we had the teeth to take it, bobbing for apples in the days when we had full neck mobility, and of course lighting fireworks. Though not after about 1968, when letting off fireworks at home was banned due to The Troubles, and it was a case of either attending public displays of pyrotechnics or bust. Additionally, our father had a student who would sometimes act as MC at my Hallowe'en parties, and whose star turn was making a ring move on the end of a string by the power of thought alone. And she had more tricks up her sleeve besides that. Speaking of tricks, we didn't do Trick or Treating in those days, or get dressed up, or decorate the house - there may have been some mimimal interaction with pumpkins, but I don't even remember that.  All the same Hallowe'en still managed to be a relatively big deal in the '60s and '70s - pre- and post-private fireworks.

I guess one of the reasons I went off Hallowe'en is the whole Trick and Treating thing, which came over from the States and which really annoys me, for I hate begging of any description. I don't care for crowd funding for that matter as a way of raising money for anything other than charitable causes, and consider it no more or less than a 21st century euphemism for begging. Then the practice of being mean to people who don't give you the requisite confectionery swag, or who insult you with a bag of carrots, notwithstanding their nutritional value, is anathema to me. Consequently last night I lurked upstairs and did not respond to the serial knocks on my door. I didn't stoop to turning the lights off downstairs, mind, because I simply refuse to be cowed by this tradition to the point of plunging the cat into darkness.

The other reason I went off Hallowe'en is frankly the goriness of people's costumes and make up. I am a squeamish soul and had to avert my eyes many times yesterday while scrolling through the Facebook posts of friends in their full ghoulish regalia. It is not that I can't appreciate the imagination and make up artistry involved, much of it highly elaborate, it is just that I am terrified of the sight of blood. ;) I don't go to Cake Club anymore, and I certainly wouldn't have relished last night's offerings, which included severed finger biscuits. Boy, were they realistic!

Source: Clare Chick

So did I do anything of a Hallowe'enish nature? Well, I did buy a squash for 39p in Aldi, mainly because it was colourful and nicely fills up the fruit bowl in the absence of fruit. I nearly bought a second one to finish the job, but balked at another 39p on an item I would probably not attempt to peel and cook, if indeed you can. For all I know, they may be entirely decorative.

Oh, and I will keep my eyes peeled when I go to the shops next in case they are selling off those little nets of chocolate pumpkin balls and the like. But I shall draw the line at eyeballs or spiders, however deeply discounted.

As for wearing a spooky or witchy Hallowe'en perfume yesterday, not a chance. I am currently trying to use up a few unknown vials which have been lying around for ages, having long since separated themselves from their Les Senteurs card or whatever they may have been attached to in the distant past. So I drained one of oriental of some kind at a guess, but not remotely susceptible to spooking the wearer, I am happy to say.

So there you have it. What a incorrigibly curmudgeonly soul I am in the Hallowe'en department, not entering into the fun at all. I didn't even wear my purple Lipstick Queen Goodbye lipstick that Undina gave me, which might at least have been a small concession to ghostly pallor. much did I enjoy looking at this garden, in a street above my house? What a lot of effort they went to, and what a veritable cornucopia of ghoulish artefacts! The pebbledash pachyderm is particularly unsettling. But seriously, if I was a kid now, I would have loved all that, just as I loved riding the Ghost Train at funfairs. It is perhaps a shame that I have lost my sense of childish wonder somewhere along the way, and become the humbug of today...

And now, on to the dishcloth draw! I excluded the overt DNEMs and put everyone else in. If I misread Lady Jane Grey's wishes a refusal will not offend, and I will do the draw again. As I foretold, the odds were excellent, as only four people were entered, haha.

So, having used the good offices of I can reveal that the winner of the 9th Blog Anniversary prize draw is:



Let me know your address again on flittersniffer at gmail dot com, even though I feel I should have it somewhere already, and I will post your prize off without delay.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Plush peony: Aroma M Geisha Botan review, plus a peony-coloured dishcloth giveaway (don't laugh!) as Bonkers turns 9

I don't know where the time goes, but I have just checked when I started Bonkers about Perfume, and it is 25th October, 2009. Some years I celebrate my blog anniversary late - up to eight months late in 2013!, then I may even have forgotten it altogether the odd time, while this year I decided to mark the occasion a day early, why not?  I do wonder if it is a bit cheeky to have an anniversary at all when my posting has become sparse of late, but I guess I am still just about going at least, on my tod, after a fashion. Or rather not after a fashion, as being on trend or 'in the swim', or even vaguely Zeitgeisty is not really my way.  I can't even bring myself to do Instagram and engage with those pesky thickets of hashtags, but that is a matter for a whole other post some time.

Behold, a cake that says those look a wee bit  like peonies to you? Just getting in the mood...

Source: Pinterest

And before broaching Maria McElroy's latest perfume release I will mention the rather mundane giveaway I am linking to it - and my anniversary. To be fair, my giveaways have been getting progressively more mundane, eclectic, and some would say downright bizarre with each passing year, spurred on by my pathological fear of posting perfume, the obvious prize. But I have no qualms about mailing this pink and therefore broadly peony-coloured dishcloth anywhere in the world to the (un-)fortunate winner. Knitted by own own age spot mottled hand, no less!

Me, I still clean my entire house with roll after roll of kitchen towel, but I have a small but growing number of environmentally-conscious friends, who are embracing recyclable things in a big way, even to the point of crocheting substitutes for cotton wool pads to remove eye make up. So by that yardstick, a washable dishcloth isn't so far-fetched really. Made from cotton, with a ruggedised pattern of double moss stitch that lends the cloth its abrasive qualities. Well, up to a point. So if you would like to be in with a chance to win it - and a DNEM will not offend, haha - please indicate as much in the comments. And I am aware it is not quite a proper square(!), but what else would you expect on Bonkers?

Truffle is thankfully asleep as I type, for she really got her claws into the bag containing HOCB Immortal Beloved last year.

And on to Geisha Botan at last, two samples of which arrived from Maria of Aroma M this week. Now I did have a number of perfume-themed (no, really!) posts in the pipeline, so the fact that this review (after a fashion) has catapulted the scent to the top of the queue - or to the mouth of the pipeline, should that be? - speaks volumes. This is suddenly the perfume I want to write about most of all, as you may rightly infer.

Before I tried Botan, I had a quick glance over the PR blurb that was sent with it. The first thing to mention is that Botan is another Japanese-inspired scent - as its inclusion in the Geisha range would suggest indeed - moreover the word Botan actually means 'peony'. I have to say I would never have made the connection, for Botan is quite a heavy word, and peonies blowsy but lighter somehow, even when they droop, of which more anon. My mind also keeps drifting towards 'butane', from which obviously I quickly yank it back. To top things off I have a type of monkey image running through my brain, but I may in fact merely be conflating Borneo and Orang-utan.

So it is doubtless best to move on from such unhelpful free associations and return to our peony muttons. The potted version of the story behind Botan is as follows: newly arrived in Tokyo in the 1980s, Maria visited Ueno Park, noted for its 17th century Toshogu Shrine. Here she chanced upon a peony garden and was struck "not only by this flower's profusion of bedazzling jagged-edged pink blossoms, but by its gentle rose-like scent." Maria considers peonies "quintessential Asian flowers" and harboured a long term wish to create the quintessential peony perfume herself one day. And now here it is.

Ueno Park ~ Source:

On a side note, I used to have two enormous peony bushes in the back garden of the house I shared with Mr Bonkers. The blossoms were incredibly profuse and a very pale pink, and every year I would 'kettle' them in a kind of metal pen to stop the heavy heads drooping till they eventually caused the whole plant to fall over. The bushes bloomed every year all the time I lived there, but I suspect Mr Bonkers - not someone overly endowed with green fingers - may since have managed to kill them, if the fate of my beloved Pieris is anything to go by.

Notes: peony, rose, sandalwood, vanilla, "velvet woods".

Now, returning to peony-inspired perfumes, in the spirit of full disclosure I didn't think I was a big fan of these. There are a few I have tried, and they can be a bit watery and insipid, or occasionally even tart. Moreover, I associate them firmly with spring, so was faintly puzzled to be receiving samples of a peony perfume in October. Though the timing of the package may have been fortuitous. Anyway, I need not have worried...oh no...

This was a peony perfume with welly. The plushest of peony perfumes ever made. It is thick and powdery and velvety and musky with just the right amount of sweetness. The peony and rose notes are beautifully blended with the lighter peony keeping the rose from being overly dark and Gothic, a la Czech & Speake's Dark Rose (there's a clue in the name!). If I remember rightly, it was also a touch agar woody and used to catch in my throat.

Now I do love gourmand orientals (being the happy owner of both Parfumerie Generale's Brulure de Rose and Tauer PHI Une Rose de Kandahar), and when Maria described this to me as a 'floral gourmand', that seemed spot on. If anyone remembers Sonoma Scent Studio's Velvet Rose, I am reminded of its rich, velvety texture, if not its scent particularly. And there are one or two other fragrances with this kind of vibe that I can't summon up for the moment. But think the olfactory equivalent of sensuous velvet damask cushions and you won't go far wrong. Funnily enough, I was thinking of getting this very one for a friend as a present. Interestingly, I imagine there is a phantom hint of plum in Botan for some reason, which I swear I detected before lighting upon this plum - and pleasingly plump - cushion!

Source: Ian Snow

I can see me wearing these samples of Botan all through the winter, day or night. Botan is a light heavy oriental, if you know what I mean. A soprano as it were. But it has heft and swagged folds too. While managing to completely avoid being the sort of powdery diva scent you would associate with a stout opera singer. I love the idea of an peony oriental scent - it really does seem to subvert the usual conventions. I am very drawn to Maria's other amber-forward creations, both for Aroma M and House of Cherry Bomb, and now I am delighted to have discovered a whole other fragrance style of hers that moves me to the same extent.

Oh, I say, I have just googled an image of the bottle - my very first sighting of it - and look what colour it is!

Source: Luckyscent

PS The draw is open until the end of October ie midnight on Hallowe'en!