Just when I think I have got this travelling lark down to a fine art, St Christopher throws me a curved ball... (I think I mean St Christopher - St Nicholas is Christmas, right?). For the journey to the airport on this, the first of my three work trips, was more than usually fraught, starting with impromptu roadworks on all the main roads leading into Stafford town centre. Traffic was at a standstill, but luckily the taxi driver had already fallen foul of the gridlock with his previous fare, so we wove a circuitous route via the back roads and I made my train with minutes to spare. I was glad I had thought to reserve a seat, because the coaches were so full that in the absence of seats - or even standing room - some passengers had wedged themselves into the luggage racks, quite literally "stowing" themselves away...
On reaching the airport, I thought I would soothe my frazzled nerves with some stodgy comfort food, but the gristly grey sludge that passed for the filling of a Cornish pasty only served to put me more on edge. "Never mind", I said to myself: "The duty free section is always good for a spot of perfume therapy."
I had travelled through Birmingham only last August, so didn't expect a great deal to have changed in the fragrance section. I gave the Chanel Les Exclusifs counter a wide berth this time, for fear that an assistant would waft a blotter with Jersey on it under my nose. I could see the large size tester prominently displayed on top of the fixture and shuddered as I scuttled past, training my eyes on the Dior lipsticks straight ahead.
I did get nobbled by one sales assistant, who urged me to try Kenzo Flower Tag of all things. As it was one of the few scents in the line I had not sampled, I relented, though not before I had warned the SA that I wasn't exactly the target demographic for Tag and fully expected not to like it. The SA looked a bit taken aback, then downright puzzled as I added: "This is just in the spirit of scientific inquiry, you understand". In the event Tag reminded me of a weedier, more watery version of Hugo Boss Deep Red.
"It's got rhubarb", remarked the SA helpfully. I was impressed by her powers of intuition, for it so happens that I will cut a "rhubarb-forward" perfume a lot of slack, though in the case of Tag, it still wasn't enough. "I know", I replied, "but the overall effect isn't doing it for me."
"What about Kenzo Amour? That's nice - would you like to try that?"
"No, I do know that one, but I blow hot and cold with heliotrope, I'm afraid."
"Do like heliotrope, then?"
Which was my cue to melt into the nearby Tom Ford fixture, where I managed for the umpteenth time to pick up a bottle of Violet Blonde and put it down again. I went through a similar charade with both Bottega Veneta and Prada Candy - somehow the mere act of picking up the pack and fondling the smooth cellophane in my hand for a moment seemed to miraculously assuage some of my spenderlust.
So what did I actually sniff, apart from Tag? Here are some mini - or even micro nuggetlet - reviews of a few scents that were either new to me or which I was retesting:
Balenciaga Paris L'Essence
Green cut-glass violets
Violent violets - as opposed to Parisienne, its younger cousin, which is (as I have said before) merely disgruntled purple talc. I didn't get the rose very much, though maybe it was busy stoking the furious violet furnace. Wasn't it Luca Turin who called this one "roaring rose"?
Chloe EDP Intense
Estée Lauder Sensuous Nude (reprise)
Burnt hazelnuts (still), but smoother on skin than on the blotter when I last tried it in August. More of a cold cream and truffle feel to it as opposed to sharp fragments of shell.
Vivienne Westwood Cheeky Alice
Supposedly the "sexier older sister" of Naughty Alice, you just know from the sales blurb below (courtesy of Now Smell This) that this simply cannot be so...
"At the heart of this cheeky and delightful fragrance is a fresh and floral bouquet that perfectly captures Alice’s femininity and impertinence. The delicacy of the lily of the valley catches your attention and subtly leads you to a voluptuous and noble fragrance of fresh peony mixed with a touch of rose, eternal symbol of womanhood."
Even allowing for the touch of rose, "voluptuous and noble fresh peony" is patently a contradiction in terms. Trust me on this - the musky, peppery, Kenzo Amour Indian Holi-esque Naughty Alice is the cheekier of the two, and frankly it is no more cheeky than a slightly upturned nose.
And d'you know what? - after about six hours they all smelt quite pleasant, even Chloé Intense (just about : - ) ).
Photo of Birmingham airport from bhxflightguide.blogspot.com, photo of pasties from flickr.com, photo of Kenzo Flower Tag from feelunique.com, photo of Chloé EDP Intense from comparestoreprices.co.uk, photo of Chloé EDP Intense from perfumediary.com