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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Another Bonkers Road Trip - The Scented Bit!

I have been back just over a week, and the scents on the blotters I keep finding at the bottom of handbags have long since become an indistinct blur. This actually matters less than you might think, as the perfume names I had scribbled on them were illegible from the off. But I reckon it is time I wrote up the perfume related aspects of from my recent travels - before the memories also become irretrievably fuzzy.

Mileagewise, this trip was 37% longer (in duration) and 48% longer (in distance) than the one in March, yet I seemed to have had less time to explore any perfume outlets that crossed my path. The extra miles covered may have had a lot to do with this, for on three occasions I spotted interesting perfume shops but made myself drive on by because I needed to be somewhere at a particular time. Should anyone be familiar with the Parfumeries in Stolberg, Erkelenz and Herisau (Switzerland) please tell me what I missed!

The few perfume outlets I did manage to visit - in shopping malls near Stuttgart and in former East Germany - barely left an impression: there seemed to be a disproportionate amount of Joop! and Bruno Banani, I do remember that. Well, that is not strictly fair: I did try out a few things that were new to me, for example the Chloe trio (Eau de Fleurs Neroli, Lavande and Capucine). The Neroli was too aggressive; I don't like lavender, and the Capucine was a sort of indeterminate green scent (with nasturtium!) That would explain my nose's complete inability to place it...

I also tried the new Dior Escale flanker a couple of times (Escale aux Marquises), and while I thought on first encounter that I might like it better than the previous two scents in the series - it lacked the sharp edge of Portofino and the overt herbiness of Pondichery - after prolonged wearing I decided it was rather odd: a sort of upmarket fruity floral marred by a faintly unpleasant note I couldn't quite put my finger on. Odd in the way Byredo's Bal d'Afrique is odd, but that is "good odd" and this was "bad odd" - a dubious accolade I would also award to Comme des Garcons' Daphne.

Okay, so far so unremarkable. After all, on my previous trip - as I later learnt - I managed to interest an online retailer, Parfumerie Nidderau, into stocking Kristiansand NYC. And here I was, over two weeks into the trip, having only tried a couple of Chloes, a Dior flanker and Lancome's Tresor In Love (which I wasn't even going to mention).

But things started to look up on 12th June, when I hooked up again with that cosmopolitan trio from Basenotes: Alicka61, Potiron and Wordbird. We agreed to meet in the Marktplatz in the centre of Basel, in exactly the same spot as back in March. This time, as it was the weekend, I was glad not to be suited and booted, or carrying a briefcase.

After a bit of excited chattering on the spot, we installed ourselves at an outside table attached to a quiet courtyard cafe recommended by Potiron: Der Rote Engel. The others ordered mouthwatering slabs of fruit tart, for which I inconveniently developed a major craving a couple of hours later, but I just felt like a cup of tea at the time.

And what an impressive beverage it turned out to be! For it came in the largest cup I have ever seen in commercial use. Mr Bonkers' mother, who has a bit of a phobia about disproportionately large tableware, and who, on our way back from Bruges last year, famously complained in Costa Coffee at Watford Gap Services that the cup her tea was served in was unacceptably large, would have been outraged and totally spooked by this freak of the ceramics industry. (Wordbird kindly placed her hand in the shot to give you a sense of scale.)

Then it wasn't long before we did that "upending of the handbag" trick and samples poured out on to the table. Wordbird was even looking for a new home for half a bottle of a natural floral perfume I had not heard of before. She kindly gave me a selection of Possets' perfumes, one of those kooky indie brands I had been curious about. (I will test and report on them in due course.) I have already sneaked a trial of the whimsically named Ghost Fart, and am bracing myself to try the rest!

After this pitstop - and given that we had loitered last time (without making a single purchase between us) in the niche perfumery Hyazinth for an indecently long time - none of us felt bold enough to return so soon, and instead checked out the perfume section in Globus, Basel's high end department store. I didn't spot any new launches, but we all found scents that were new to us - whole swathes of the Acqua di Parma or Bond No 9 ranges, for example, plus the odd Prada, Marc Jacobs or Etro. I gave Annick Goutal's Ninfeo Mio its fourth or fifth trial but my original verdict still stands: way too sharp!!

From Globus (having said goodbye to Alicka61, who had to head home at this point) we went to Import Parfumerie and had a very satisfying scavenge in their bargain bins. These were crammed with deeply discounted perfumes - some to as little as 10 or 15 euros (a steal for Switzerland!) - but most of them were not on my radar and for the most part looked like Swiss equivalents of Elizabeth Arden's Red Door and things in that vein.

I thought I had found a true bargain in a 30 SFRS bottle of DSQUARED She Wood, only to discover that it was the body lotion. But let me not downplay the thrill of the rummage, which was considerable, and enhanced by Wordbird's helpful commentary about the general style of different brands.

By now my stomach was rumbling, so we popped into an Italian cafe (another Potiron haunt) and ordered freshly made paninis, and in my case a cup of tea served in a receptacle of conventional dimensions. Our energy levels restored, we hit Douglas, where I made a purchase! (Two metal decanting funnels for 2 SFRS apiece, which struck me as pretty good value.) And Wordbird's more substantial purchase of a small Steiff bear bought us some more valuable "loitering time".

In Douglas I used my prime skin sites to retry Rance Eau Royale (fresh, foresty) and Laetitia (woodier than I remembered, doubtless due to the heat). My first trial of Guerlain's Flora Nymphea was a nondescript disappointment on skin - I had expected some kind of honeyed beauty like Chanel Beige. I also sampled DSQUARED Crystal Creek Wood (intrigued by the blue colour of the juice), and found it a pleasant, vaguely aquatic number, just as you would expect.

After Douglas and a mosey round a nearby shoe store (some interesting Camper-esque styles here and there, but with prices to match, sadly!), Potiron suggested taking a ferry ride across the Rhine. It lasted all of 3 minutes, but it was fun to look back at the city skylines on from the water. On the other side of the river we wandered along the tree-lined promenade bordering Klein-Basel, before stopping for a beer within the grounds of a former army barracks (now a green area fringed with cafes, bars and an arts venue). We were dimly aware of the early English goal against the USA in the bar next door (it has been downhill ever since!), and before we knew it it was getting cold and dark and time to accompany Wordbird to the railway station. Potiron and I rounded off the night with an Italian meal, and it was after 11pm when we went our separate ways at a tram stop near the centre.

Summing up, it was fantastic to see everyone again, and this meeting further cemented our international friendship. To the point where - while perfume will always be the interest that first united us, and we will probably brave Parfumerie Hyazinth again one day - I think we could have just as much fun next time hitting the shoe shops instead.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Impure White Linen And Heat Related Environmental Havoc

Today I did intend to write about the scented side to the latest Bonkers Road Trip, but it has been unbearably hot in my office. Indeed the heat sparked off a whole new perfume crisis this morning, and fuelled this impromptu post.

You see, I decided to wear Pure White Linen today, which is the "casual" signature scent of my cousin's wife. I offered to find her younger daughter (aged 24) a new perfume, as she doesn't like anything she has tried in the shops and defaults to borrowing her older sister's CK IN2U instead.

The only other thing I know about my relative's fragrance preferences is that she considers Pure White Linen to be "nice", but a bit "old". I think I know where she is coming from with this comment, as Estee Lauder as a house has a bit of a preppy, deck-shoe-and-Chino's-kind of a vibe, which a 20-something person might understandably construe as "old".

So I sprayed on some PWL in order to understand exactly what kind of "old" I should avoid in my fragrance recommendations. But to my dismay I discovered that my mini of it had gone off. Instead of that bright, breezy, slightly soapy floral I remembered, there was dead flower water and a nasty alcoholic tang. It has not been long since I spotted that my mini of Agent Provocateur had gone the same way, so I started to suspect the recent heatwave was taking its toll.

For though - exactly a year ago - I invested in a small beer chiller for the bulk of my collection (well, probably 60% by volume), that still leaves a fair few bottles, minis and samples languishing in dark (but currently decidedly warm) drawers!

So I spent the morning clearing out all the perfume from the bedside units and re-homing it in the storage room behind the garage, which is not cold as such, but is a few degrees cooler at least.

This is the room where Mr Bonkers stores some of his gear, so it was not long before he came across the interloping carrier bags of perfume in the middle of the floor, and inquired whether this was a permanent move. He seemed satisfied by my assurance that it was only an interim measure, and we got to talking about our plans for the day.

"Well" he began, "obviously I am going to watch the England match, and I could really do with some kind of fluid, but I am too hot to move."

"To move where?"

"Er...to the shop, for example."

"Okay, I don't mind going, and I'll pick up some fresh food while I am there."


By way of background, no one has done a proper supermarket trip since before I went away some five weeks ago, and just this weekend, I caught Mr Bonkers contentedly scavenging off family-sized tubes of Pringles and a packet of caramel digestives.

"Fresh food?" he exclaimed, his voice quivering with alarm. "But that might disturb my delicate ecosystem!"

In the end I coaxed him into eating an egg/cheese/hummus salad, with new potatoes and baby corn on the cob. (I cannot bring myself to use the term "cobette".) Mr Bonkers ate with relish and remarked that his ecosystem appeared to have emerged relatively unscathed by the sudden influx of nutrients.

I wish I could say the same for the now Impure White Linen and the other casualties of my "them and us" curating system. For in the unequal ecosystem I have devised for my perfume collection, the scents stored at ambient temperatures are left to take their chances when it gets really hot at the top of the house.

I guess the overspill could just colonise the kitchen fridge. When I got home last weekend it only contained milk, margarine, beer and a single onion (I had put there). So there is just a chance that Mr Bonkers will never notice...

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Another Bonkers Road Trip: from Boppard to Saint Gotthard, and Plopsaland to Piddlehinton

Okay, so that title was a bit of a mouthful, and I fully intended to put: "Part One - The Work Bit" or some such qualifier afterwards, but that might have subjected the title box to unreasonable pressure. And after all, the 4000+ mile itinerary was the motoring equivalent of a mouthful and a half, so an unwieldy title seems fitting.

I am still embroiled in the final phase of my project, but on the basis that a change is as good as a rest, thought I would get cracking on the trip report, starting with the non-perfume related aspects.

In terms of the travel itself, there was a lot of rural driving through sleepy villages, as well as the usual long motorway stretches. The hairiest moments occurred in the windy back streets of Soest, near Dortmund. I narrowly avoided colliding with a bus, which swerved abruptly to avoid another bus that had got itself wedged against a Ford Fiesta in a narrow lane. Right after I dodged the second bus, an old man fell into the road in front of my car, but luckily I spotted him in mid-teeter, and braked in time.

A more routine traffic phenomenon in Germany (and there are radio bulletins dedicated to this very subject) is the surprising number of dangerous obstacles on the motorway. These range from vehicular and other detritus (tyre shreddings, bumpers, planks of wood and bits of exhaust - for which the charming word in German is "Auspuff"), to farmyard animals, dogs, children playing, bicycles, and cars driving in the wrong direction (so-called "ghost drivers"). My favourite carriageway hazard this time has to be "people stopping to pick up parcels".

The Satnav was mostly a help, apart from the odd navigational equivalent of an epileptic fit to which it is prone - twice in fact in the same stretch of Autobahn near Moenchengladbach, where the dense motorway network caused the device to suffer a fatal bout of option anxiety, trapping me in another of its endless loops between two junctions on the A61.

Then again, I wasn't exactly a model motorist myself: I was caught by a speed camera in Germany and nearly got towed in Switzerland when I parked on the wrong side of the market square on a Friday. Towing would have been preferable I guess to the car being trampled underhoof by a herd of beribboned bell-wearing cattle.

On this trip I continued to notice subtle cultural differences. Small German children are not afraid to say hello to passing strangers. Ditto the knots of youths roaming the streets at night, where their British counterparts might swear, snigger or - if you are very unlucky - pull out a knife.

In France only the disabled toilet in a layby could be relied upon to have "above ground sanitary ware" as opposed to the Turkish, "Squat" style of facility.

German branches of Starbucks give you the choice of full fat milk, skimmed milk and condensed milk aka Kaffeesahne, in deference to the national preference for cream - even with tea.

Town halls in Germany offer a fax sending service to the public on a walk-up basis (for a fee!). Churches in certain parts of the Harz mountains are corrugated.
There were a few new experiences this time round: for example my first ever interview conducted in a garden. Every now and then I had to swipe small money spiders from the end of my nose, only to flick them inadvertently on to my respondent's face. And by a strange "quirk" of fate, I "quizzed" not one but two people with surnames beginning with "Q". This was also the first time a respondent has briefly climbed onto the desk and lain across it Odalisque-style (as he couldn't see something his colleague was working on further down the large conference table).

There were a couple of linguistic oddities that made me smile: the wine I drank on my birthday - GIMMELDINGER MEERSPINNE - and the translation in a corporate brochure of a flame resistant product as "flame retarded". I also puzzled long and hard over a strange bit of advertising puffery on a road sign: "LOWER SAXONY - ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA".

The weather went through every permutation over the four weeks: from 9 degrees with flurries of hail to 32 degrees and blazing sunshine. I wore almost every item of clothing I had brought with me, and even one or two I hadn't: for in the absence of socks, I improvised by wearing gloves on my feet during the colder nights.

On this trip I also visited former East Germany, which I could sum up in three words: "cheap", "cobblestoney" and "open". By "open" I mean that businesses ignored certain public holidays celebrated in the west and also didn't seem to close at lunchtime. So if you can remember not to wear heels in the streets of the Innenstadt, and aren't spooked by old water towers, the East is the place to be.

I could go on with my usual rant about creamy sauces and the ubiquity of asparagus at this time of year, but that is probably enough NOT about perfume to be going on with... I would just like to say RIP to my laptop (which died near Mannheim on 2nd June) and to the many insects of sundry nationalities who met an untimely end on my windscreen.

Monday, 21 June 2010

My Bonkers Birthday Card From Moonpig's "Scent To You" Range

Well, I am just back from the Bonkers Road Trip (4207 miles aka a more metrically impressive 6731 km), but sadly facing a completely bonkers work deadline. As a result, it may be a little while yet before I can report properly on my latest overseas adventures, including the reunion of the Ladies of Switzerland (Resident and Visiting).

So I thought I would do a quick post about one of my birthday cards instead. The actual day was nearly four weeks ago, and I spent it interviewing a manufacturer of hydraulic and pneumatic seals, so it was only last night that I caught up with the bulk of my birthday post, including this rather splendid custom-made Moonpig one. (All the images may be enlarged by clicking on them.)

There are 12 different designs on the theme of perfume in the Moonpig catalogue, some of them rather crass and risque, such as the ones featuring women's fragrances named "Foxy", "Insatiable" and "Pornographique"(!). The men's card templates are not much better, with several scantily clad male models prominently displayed. By contrast, my friend chose a very tasteful and aesthetic option, added her own personalised text, and created the perfect greetings card for a fumehead - indeed I would go so far as to say that it is a present in its own right!

Receiving such an apt card made me aware of how few there are out there in outlets like W H Smiths, Clinton Cards etc that are targeted at lovers of perfume. Motifs of sailing boats, cup cakes, red wine bottles, Venetian canals, handbags, shoes, Japanese bird etchings, butterflies and even sock monkeys abound, but perfume bottles are virtually nowhere to be seen.

NB "VM Hates Civit" is an approximation and slight misspelling of my other screen name...
: - )

So there we go - another market opportunity joins the calendar idea that...er... is still languishing on the drawing board!

PS "Scandal" is not an allusion to the scurrilous content of gossip magazines, but refers to the scent by Roja Dove, to which I introduced my friend, and of which she is now the proud owner (albeit some £125 lighter!)