Friday, 20 July 2018

'Pure Poison': the bizarre and tragic case of the perfume bottle that wasn't

3D-Novichok ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons (ChiralJon)
When the news of the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia broke last March, it seemed like the most preposterously unlikely event ever to occur in the sedate cathedral town of Salisbury. The weapon of choice was the military-grade Novichok, a series of nerve agents first developed by Russian scientists back in the 1970s. Yes, this was the stuff of John Le Carre novels rather than a tale of everyday folk eating pizza on a Sunday afternoon in a shopping centre. As the story unfolded though, we learnt that Sergei Skripal was a former Russian spy / double agent, so (without naming names!) a possible motive for the attack was starting to emerge. Both father and daughter recovered, thankfully, after a long stay in hospital.

Fast forward to the end of June, and two more people were poisoned by Novichok, thought to be from the very same batch used against the Skripals, but at a much higher strength - at least ten times as concentrated. The victims on this occasion - Dawn Sturgess and boyfriend Charlie Rowley - were, however, random members of the public, who became exposed to the substance after Dawn picked up an abandoned perfume bottle in the Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury and took it back to Charlie's house in Amesbury.

Queen Elizabeth Gardens, Salisbury ~ Source: Geograph

Some reports say that only Dawn sprayed the contents onto her skin, while others state that both she and her partner did. Another article has Charlie merely 'picking up' the perfume bottle once his girlfriend had brought it into his home. And I say 'spray', but I have seen one newspaper account which describes the transfer method used by Dawn as 'dabbing'. All the papers agree that it was a 'small glass bottle'. None has mentioned the brand, so perhaps it was unbranded and just a recognisable perfume atomiser or dab bottle of some kind. Then unless this was an obviously unisex scent, it seems unlikely to me that Charlie would test it on himself, but the mere act of handling the bottle may have been enough to lead to serious levels of contamination.

Charlie Rowley remains in hospital, described as 'severely ill' after contact with the nerve agent, however this may have come about. Dawn Sturgess sadly died eight days after collapsing at her boyfriend's home, where the little bottle was recovered by police.

Coming hard on the heels of the Skripal case, this incident is equally if not more shocking, in that the attack was aimed at mere passersby, with no connection whatsoever to the Russian state and its apparatus. It suddenly makes you think that any found object, however innocent-looking, has the potential to be dangerous - or even fatal. And it seems horribly perverse that fragrance, the transformative power of which is invariably a force for good, should be subverted to these evil and destructive ends. As well as sadly making the names of Dior's 'Poison' range - that infamously groundbreaking collection comprising original Poison from 1985 and its flankers - sound like an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.

Would this incident make you more wary about found objects generally, and perfume specifically?

According to the Daily Mail, police have warned people in Salisbury: "If you didn't drop it, don't pick it up." So that appears to be the official line, at least locally.

But on the other hand, is there a danger we could become immobilised by fear from touching anything that doesn't belong to us? What if someone dropped their wallet...surely the public-spirited thing would be to pick it up and hand it in?  That said, the sheer audacity and inhumanity of this attack certainly gives you pause...
Source: Fragrantica

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Analgesics Mini-Tour: The Monochrome Set in Germany, May 2018

Headache not helped by sound check ~ via Mike Urban
I have already written about the serendipitous colliding of my perfume and music worlds in this post about Geza Schoen and his friend coming to a Monochrome Set gig in Berlin. In it I mentioned that at some point I would write up the travel aspects of this mini-tour, which also took in Cologne, Mainz, and Hamburg. Predictably on Bonkers, that time has come somewhat belatedly, and I may have picked up one or two other travel anecdotes from later gigs that I will append here, using a dollop of chronological licence.

And rather than adopt a chronological approach to this travelogue, I will opt for my tried and tested formula of grouping incidents and observations thematically, starting with...

Going by our middle names

At St Pancras, on the way out to Cologne, Andy the bass player had the whimsical idea that for the duration of the trip we should refer to one another by our middle names. This yielded some amusing discoveries before we even started playing the game:

Me: Jane
Singer (Bid): Tara!!
Bass player (Andy): Peter
Keyboard player (John): Paul
Drummer (Mike): refused to tell us ;), so we promptly gave him a German name - Joachim (when we could remember), and Juergen (when we couldn't).
Dave (merchandise team): Alistair (spelling is approximate)
Jane (merchandise team): 'haven't got one', so that is exactly what we called her

It didn't take long for the game to fall into complete disarray, as we kept forgetting to use the alternative names, though not before I had worried a couple of them by threatening to 'rob Peter to pay Paul'.

Signally failing to eat satsumas

Although there is sometimes fruit as part of the rider, it can never be counted on, and I decided to clear my fruit bowl before I left and bring seven satsumas out with me rather than let them go soft and mouldy at home while I was away. I dutifully dragged this fruit on and off trains and from hotel to hotel, periodically offering them to the others...but only had one taker in the four days. I then forgot to eat any of the remaining half dozen myself, and brought them all back home again. However, I am pleased to report that they did in fact withstand the rigours of the journey, and I promptly juiced the lot on my return.

Ongoing pillow disappointments

The pillows continued to disappoint on this tour, being mostly of the large square flat variety, which is neither use nor ornament - or not any use for sleeping, anyway. Occasionally these 'expansive flaccid travesties', as I came to term them, sported a curious embellishment in the shape of a tiny boudoir pillow perched on top, to which someone had administered a swift karate chop. It was so small that it was completely futile as a second layer. As ever I ended up trying to fold the main pillow in half, but when I stuck my head on it, it quickly had the same effect as the karate chop on the little one, and I could feel myself sinking right down to the level of the mattress, as though I were 'sleeping' (I use the word advisedly) in a feathery gorge.

Eating leftovers in a timely manner

Eating on the run has its downsides, not least the lack of a fridge to store any remnants of food you might have. My natural squirrelling tendencies mean that I hate waste, and often fashion eclectic meals at home from an array of unrelated leftovers. I get excited at the uncharacteristic appearance of a mini-bar in hotel rooms - not because of the drink contained within, but the boon of a refrigerated appliance for storing food. Thus it was that I kept a few wedges of pizza left over from a late night snack in Berlin in my mini-bar, before packing them to take on the plane back to Gatwick the next day. It was very hot that Sunday, yet amazingly the food was still cool to the touch when I opened my case at the airport, and shortly afterwards I stood munching cold pizza on the platform at 3pm, feeling smug that I had got it down me before it became unsafe to eat. To be fair, I would have felt even smugger had it been warm, but I can't see me travelling with a microwave in tow anytime soon.

Cold pizza not pictured!

Bananas as an airport security risk

While we are on the subject of food and airports, I could mention a conversation about bananas I had with Andy - sorry, Peter - at the airport in Berlin. We were both eating the fruit in question simultaneously, and I explained to Peter that I had given the working title of 'Banana in the Briefcase' to a humorous travel book I have yet to write about my escapades on work - and latterly also band - trips (though a fair bit of potential copy ends up here, which I may repurpose one day...!). Peter immediately twigged to my intended meaning, namely as a metaphor for an accident waiting to happen, because of a banana's propensity to turn to blackened mush at the drop of a hat, which can of course be disastrous if you keep any important papers or a favourite fountain pen in your briefcase. This in turn prompted him to observe: 'Better eat up, or Security will construe them as a pulpy liquid and take them off us.' And we all know how many alarming attempts there have been to hijack planes with bananas that are well past their best...

Musicians as scent mules

Also at Berlin airport, I realised that thanks to Geza's generosity with samples for everyone, I was now well over the limit of toiletries one can reasonably stuff in those plastic freezer bag things you take through the X-ray machine. So there was nothing for it but to distribute my surplus amongst those in our party who had hold luggage with room to spare. Consequently, some of Geza's perfumes went in Tara's guitar case, along with my own perfume selection for the trip, while the majority, still in their cardboard box, were packed away with the drummer's cow bell. Oh, and my deodorant went with the merch team, who were flying to Luton, not Gatwick(!), so I was reunited with that item some weeks later. Jane whipped it out of her handbag with a dramatic flourish at an Indian restaurant, much to my amusement. And it would have been funny if the various members of our party who had acted as mules for me had been asked if they were 'carrying anything for somebody else', and had all said: 'Oh yes!!' and pointed at me...;)

The running joke of glass in Tara's foot

Quite early on in the trip, Tara the singer announced that he had a splinter of glass in his foot, which was giving him considerable gip. Over the course of the week he poked and prodded it in a bid to wiggle the sliver to the pinprick-sized hole where it had got in in the first place, before burrowing laterally under the skin. At one point, Peter came out with the cruel yet priceless quip: 'If we laugh at your poorly foot, would that be 'Shard-enfreude'?

Gig in the round, King Georg, Cologne ~ via Mike Urban

Miscellaneous missions

Scarf retrieval

One of my roles on tour is to be a kind of 'runner' / 'gofer' / 'woman Friday', responding to any requests as they arise, often on an emergency basis. A prime example of this was when Tara realised he had left his scarf in his hotel room, just 15 minutes before our train was due to leave. I was immediately nominated as the fastest jogger, even on a hot day as it was, and despatched forthwith to the hotel (under an underpass, up a hill). I made it to the seventh floor, somewhat breathless, just as the 'chamberman' was cleaning Tara's room. There on the corridor floor was his scarf, which I scooped up in a flash, calling through the open door: 'This belongs to one of our party!' before hotfooting it down seven flights of stairs rather than waiting for the lift.

Holding things

Holding and carrying things is one of my main jobs, from guitars to drinks vouchers, to drinks themselves, to train tickets - and even lighted cigarettes. On a previous tour, Joachim the drummer had asked me to take his rucksack back to the hotel and keep it in my room overnight, while he went clubbing, unimpeded by the extra weight. He only went and realised at 2.30am that he had left his key in the rucksack that was now in my room(!), whereby hangs a tale...These past experiences rather conditioned me to expect to have to hold and keep things for hours at a time. Thus it was that at a gig in the UK the following week, three of the band were getting out of the car when the drummer handed me his rucksack, saying: 'Would you mind taking this?' I immediately asked if he wanted it back in the morning, to which he replied: 'No, only while I tie my laces.'

Impromptu photo shoots

The band had an official photo shoot in the afternoon before the gig in Mainz. The relaxed shot below was taken by Jane of the merchandise team, who was snapping away at the same time as the professional photographer:

Silly photo opportunities were not missed at any point, however. Here is a snap I took of them all (and a chap from the venue) in A Very Tall Lift at a theatre in Hamburg.

And here is one of me and Peter being all kinds of silly with the word 'Blumen' (flowers) in Mainz.

The Mutter of all headaches

On the first night of the trip, I drank a couple of strong glasses of red wine rather quickly - for logistical reasons with which I shan't trouble you. That evening (a Wednesday) an evil headache set in as soon as my head hit the flat pillow, which was to dog me till the small hours of Saturday morning. Everything became a struggle, especially in the heat, but I kept going, lapsing into lulls of pained slumping whenever the opportunity arose. As the week wore on, I ran out of my own stocks of Solpadeine, so members of our party stepped into the breach, offering their own analgesics of choice in ever increasing dosages and strengths. I tried paracetamol, ibuprofen, Co-codamol and finally, at midnight on Friday in the band dressing room, I popped a tablet of neat codeine kindly donated by Jane, and it saw the headache off in seconds!

I can't believe it's gone!

Now I have taken to calling life on tour as 'gruelling fun', and this trip was very high on the 'gruelling', but I felt so euphoric when the headache lifted - which segued into the happy encounter with Geza Schoen the following day - that it was almost worth the pain of the past few days, 'hitting your head against a brick wall and it being so nice when you stop'-style. Okay, I might not really mean that.

But you can be sure that while I still have the stamina, and the resilience to deal with the logistical curved balls that will inevitably arise when on the road, I will do it all again in a heartbeat.

Lighting at the Nachtasyl, Hamburg

Thursday, 5 July 2018

"Let's drip together": Roja Parfums sandalwood candle, and thoughts on all things hot and bothered

It seems to have been hot for as long as I can remember - easily since time immemorial - though realistically it has probably only been two weeks so far, with a further heatwave forecast for the next two. I could well say it is too hot to blog, as my office upstairs is an absolute sun trap, and there are times of day when the glare on the screen makes my desktop computer unusable. Well, I do have a Venetian blind, but it is such a faff interacting with cords, and a bunch of bunched up slats invariably lands on my head in the process. So I just accept a lesser window of computer activity, and a greater window of doing jobs round the house and in the garden.

Then later this month I am going to the 60th birthday party of a friend in London, and although the date is still a way off, my mind turned to possible presents for him. Thinking about it, the train fare was rather steep this time, so my presence may have to be a major part of his present, as it were. ;) Anyway, the first idea I had was this Roja Dove candle, which I have had for a while now. I always meant to give it to someone, as it is an inherently gifty sort of item that is suitable for pretty much anyone, except people who only like silver or who think that burning candles is an environmentally suspect practice (see my post on Aldi's scented candle range, which touches on this very matter). I had carefully kept the candle in its protective bubble wrap bag, but when I went to pick it up I noticed spots of what looked like black ink on the packaging, but which was of course molten black wax. Eeeugh, was my first thought, as I quickly discarded the wrapping and considered the candle itself. The label was also splattered in spots of black wax, while the surface had started to pool and bubble, not unlike a very sluggish geyser.

So clearly Roja Dove the candle has got a little bit hot under the collar in this weather, and sadly must be demoted forthwith from gift status. I was jolly interested to see how readily it started to melt though, even without the application of any incendiary material, like a match, say! Someone could write a bestselling song about the phenomenon, calling it 'Candle in the sun'...IAnd it is also a bit like the sunshine equivalent of that cake in MacArthur Park - though obviously substitute candle for cake and black wax for green icing.

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain

Ooh, rain, that would be novel?!

Anyway, this got me thinking about the trials and tribulations generally of being hot. I am managing to function by dint of sleeping only under a sheet, and changing my clothes a lot, but from time to time I do worry about my perfume collection. It is all upstairs in the warmest part of the house - in the dark, admittedly, in a variety of drawers and wardrobes - but the ambient temperature is still too warm. Are you experiencing unusually high temperatures where you are at the moment? And if so, have you altered the storage arrangements of your perfume collection?

I think I am going to do something about mine sharpish. And I guess I have the dripping Roja candle to thank in fact for bringing it home to me in such a dramatic fashion quite how hot it has got in my home...!

Ooh, it's left a little puddle!

Friday, 22 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

A particularly messy craft night!

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

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

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

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

M's cup, my saucer - a perfect match

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

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

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

Monday, 11 June 2018

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

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

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

Source: Aroma M Perfumes

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

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

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

Ghostly robed figure disappearing down The Long Gallery

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

Source: Express & Star

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

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


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

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

This wasn't the pool I swam in.

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

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

Monday, 4 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allotments near my house ~ Source: wrmcomputers

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

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

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

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

It was!! WTF??"

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

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

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

Which obviously I have also ignored.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Stadt Berlin ~ we sat on the lower terrace

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Post-gig scene with perfume samples

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

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

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

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

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

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