Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Bonkers about Perfume and the Bonkers kitten turn six (years and weeks old respectively)!

Well, technically the six-themed milestone for both my blog and my upcoming new feline arrival was Sunday just gone. However, though I managed to go and visit her - and take an utterly preposterous number of photos, much like her full name (big - or should that be long? - reveal to follow) - I was dogged again by a chronic headache for much of the rest of the day (to mix my animal metaphors slightly). The headache has been hanging around for six days now in fact, though I feel a little better at the time of writing.

So yes, 25th October, 2009 saw my first post on Bonkers - about the genesis of the blog, where I explain the strange phenomenon of Sudden Onset Perfume Mania which descended on me some 18 months before thinking of writing about scent in the public domain. I am surprised to have kept it up as long as I have, albeit there has been the odd hiatus along the way - notably in the summer of 2012, when I moved house. And I did seriously consider kicking the blog into touch a few times as well: once when it was hijacked by an Israeli site, once when I ruffled a few feathers with a guest post on Now Smell This, which I shan't even link to in case I ruffle a few more(!), and once when my blog template got accidentally corrupted to the point where I had to set it to Private until a friend kindly unscrambled it for me over the course of two nights' work on his part.

I have noticed that some of my 'generation' have also slowed down their pace of blogging or stopped altogether - The Left Coast Nose, Another Perfume Blog and Parfumieren being three much missed examples of 'retired blogs'. And while they each had their own reasons, maybe it is natural to move on to other things after x number of years, because of the not inconsiderable time and effort involved in blogging. I may well get to that point too by and by. Though we do also have examples of behemoth blogs such as NST, The Non-Blonde and Bois de Jasmin, which have been going for much longer than me - and maintained an impressive posting schedule to boot. For myself, I shall continue to pootle on on this ad hoc frequency of 'about a week'-ish, and see where that goes...

Source: pinterest

Oh, together with a number of bloggers 'on the scene', I recently took part in a survey hosted by a postgraduate student at a Swiss university on the subject of the influence of perfume blogs. It was quite an interesting and thought provoking exercise, and I might post my answers in full in a later post, but it is perhaps appropriate on my anniversary to mention here how I answered this multiple choice question about why I blog in the first place. The options were:

'Because you would like to...

1. 'influence people'
2. 'inform'
3. 'warn'
4. 'educate'
5. 'because you enjoy it, because you are communicative'
6. 'because your followers value your opinion'

So I replied:

'Quite simply - to entertain, which is closest to your #5, though not the same. Perfume is a hook on which to hang what I hope are amusing posts - oh, and I also write travelogues, which have the same aim, and may feature perfume sniffing along the way.'

Though increasingly they don't, haha! And it seems only a matter of time before my compulsive collecting of wool aka 'yarn harlotry' creeps into a blog post, that being the other key 'pillar' amongst my interests. Well, soon to be joined by the Bonkers kitten, with whom I expect I shall spend a fair amount of time playing wool games of one kind and another.

So I went to see her on Sunday, as I say, and she was as enchanting and cute as ever, if not more so. My Facebook friends will already be aware that the kitten's mother was killed in a hit and run incident two weeks ago, but most fortuitously, the mother cat's mother happened to have had a litter of her own just four days previously, and by the end of that sad day had stepped into the breach and started to feed her three orphaned grandkittens. She was still feeding them on an 'on demand' basis during my visit, bless her. ;)

The owner said that out of all the kittens, my one - and one other - were the most loving, in terms of liking to sit on laps and be cuddled, which is all very promising. She added that if I had picked Betty - a grey tabby - she would  have been a little more concerned, as Betty is a bit more self-contained, and a darn sight more mischievous than Truffle.

Which brings me lastly to the 'long reveal' of the Bonkers kitten's name, prompted partly by the fact that the owner latched onto one of the names on the shortlist a couple of weeks ago and started to call her 'Truffles' off her own bat. ;) My brother said that Truffles plural sounds a bit like a 1930s burlesque dancer, while it reminds me of someone doing a whole box of Ferrero Rocher watching Strictly. So I will probably singularise the  name when she comes. The other kittens have also all got rather sweet names now, to wit: Lottie, Simba, Betty (as mentioned), Cleo and Willow.

Oh....and Truffle's full name is...brace yourselves!...'Truffle Ganache Salome Bonkers' - or just 'Truffle Musson', obviously, if she is visiting the vet. The complete and decidedly bonkers suite of names was designed by committee, which says it all, really. But I'd like to extend a big thank you to everyone who came up with such a variety of thoughtfully chosen suggestions. I can assure you that they all went into the pot for consideration, even if, as it turns out, a rather eclectic 'dish' of nomenclature has come out of it again.

And lastly it remains to thank readers everywhere for your interest in Bonkers, however long or short a time you have been reading. If there are any types of posts you would like to see featured on here, let me know in the comments. And if you think that I should continue to resist sneaking wool-themed posts in, do please speak up. Also if you love dogs. Actually that might just be too bad. But I realise I am already digressing quite a bit from the supposedly core topic of perfume with my travel / band-related posts, so there may be a natural ceiling to the number of permissible tangents I can go in, hehe.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A potpourri of postal musings, including 4160 Tuesdays' new self-adhesive, cushion wrap corrugated packaging

I know, I know. You've glanced at the title and thought to yourself: 'A blog post about cardboard? I'll pass on that, thank you very much...' And that's fair enough, but as an industrial market researcher I have always been interested in packaging, which has been a bit of a recurring theme in my work down the years. This in turn has prompted me in the past to blog about those 'unsung heroes of the swap scene', bubble wrap and electrical insulation tape. It wouldn't suprise me if I had blogged about Jiffy bags, parcel and Scotch / Sello-tape at some point, but I don't believe I have - yet. Or I may have written about them in passing - an observation about the apparent trend towards black and hot pink and metallic Jiffy bags, say - but not on a standalone basis.

Cologne clear out - no casualties reported!

But firstly I wanted to announce the good news that after quite a few weeks and a fair degree of nail biting on my part, all the overseas perfume packages I posted as a result of my recent cologne clear out and giveaway made it through to their destinations in Croatia, Denmark, Australia, Canada and the USA. All the packages contained an eclectic assortment of decoy items, from a wind up reindeer to an unwound paper clip, as well as tea bags, strands of wool, universal ink cartridges, torn bits of material, sweets, skincare samples, an elastic band, a lone earring, a bookmark, a button or two - and a vividly coloured coaster with reindeer on it. (I say, there seems to be a bit of an accidental reindeer theme going on....!)

For the most part, these extraneous items were nothing you would actually want or could use, but their inclusion, however token, enabled me to access whole new categories on the customs declaration such as 'Stationery', 'Jewellery', 'Artists' Materials', 'Children's Toys' - and my personal favourite, 'Haberdashery'. Had space permitted, I would dearly love to have popped in a scarf to one or other of the parcels, so I could have added 'Ladies' Apparel' to the list. Next time I might just try that with entry level apparel items like pop sox! Maybe (clean) ones with ladders in them for added comedic futility.

It seems the recipients were also amused by my creative labelling / inclusions. When two of the packages made landfall in Australia, I received a photo of them sitting on the new owner's desk with the following running commentary as she opened them one at a time:

"LOL! Fabric samples...Nice work!"

Me: "If there's a tea bag in there, on no account drink it. It's something green and nasty."

"Shoe polish sponge. Button. I'm laughing my a*** off in the middle of an open plan office !!"

My next stash of fabric samples, ready to go

The Post Office inquisition, and the onside rule

The other aspect of my postal MO to mention is that I have taken to splitting my custom across multiple post offices for the more sensitive shipments, much as people stockpiling painkillers are wont to visit a number of different chemists. I now pretty much only use my local post office for sending perfume within the UK, which is of course not a problem, except that you are limited to how many bottles you can send, and even what constitutes a bottle. For the fact that you are meant only to send full bottles in the first place is perplexing, given that I mostly want to post decants and samples. Then there is the complicating factor of the 'bottle' supposedly being in its original packaging, which the things I am sending may well not be, if I have decanted them myself.

Then the other day I was sending two decants and a sample of something to a friend - which I gaily construed as 'one bottle' on the hazardous goods label, because on aggregate it was nearer to one bottle than anything else, hehe. And because I had told the postmaster earlier that I was having a clear out of my perfume collection, which is what had prompted the earlier flurry of UK packages he had handled, on that afternoon he piped up: 'Hey, have you got any perfume going spare?' He meant for himself, as it turned out, so I am going to give him a little miniature of a unisex scent by Micallef that Sabine of Iridescents had recently passed on to me, which is a bit rosy and oudy. I happened to be wearing it at the time, and the postmaster sniffed my hand and said he liked it a lot. So the next time I am in I will drop it off, for given how globally dispersed this perfume hobby is, it is quite important to keep your local PO staff onside...

Not my post office ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons

4160 Tuesdays: padded packaging prompts patient prising

The other postal observation I wanted to make is about the packaging in which Sarah McCartney, owner of 4160 Tuesdays, had kindly sent me a promotional notepad featuring a colourful graphic of iconic London buildings interspersed with perfume bottles. It arrived in a corrugated cardboard pack that was so well sealed I had to take both scissors and knives to it in the finish. It was hard to find where exactly the ends of the package were sealed so I could insert my sharp implement of choice between them, but eventually brute force and a ragged kind of cutting action prevailed.

As seamless as your average sting ray

Here for reference is a photo of an average sting ray - bet you can't see the join on it either?

Source: popsci.com

I mentioned the impregnability of her parcel to Sarah, who explained that it was a new style of 'cushion wrap' packaging they were trying out, which cleverly only sticks to itself and not to the item enclosed. Despite having done a project on single, double and triple-walled corrugated cardboard in Poland, Germany and Austria, I was not aware of this nifty technical feature, albeit the project in question was in 1996.

I think the new style of packaging is excellent for protecting contents in transit - there would be no dog ears or creased dustjackets if you were sending a book, say - but it does require a fair degree of patience and the ownership of an armoury of pointy utensils on the part of the addressee.


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

'Between a rock hyrax and a festival': a pleasantly pungent Papillon pitstop en route to Rockaway Beach

Back when I wrote my 'not a review' of Salome by Papillon Artisan Perfumes - which featured the perturbed reactions of my friend Lizzie and her children to the perfume's thoroughly 'unnecessary' behaviour on my skin, to wit, that I shouldn't really be encouraged to wear this, especially not outdoors - Liz Moores expressed an interest in smelling Salome for herself on my skin, to see if I did indeed amp up the skank factor, as Liz's own skin does. And it wasn't long before a suitable opportunity arose, for I found myself bound for Bognor Regis and a 'boutique indoor music festival' called Rockaway Beach, and realised that Papillon's HQ was only a short squirt away up the M27. So I arranged with Liz that I would pop in on Saturday afternoon for a quick pitstop en route to the coast.

It is well documented - also in my own 'okay, let's call it a review for once' of Angelique - that Liz lives in splendid isolation in the middle of the New Forest. Well, isolation only in the sense of proximity to neighbours maybe, for the household is quite populous, comprising a shifting kaleidoscope of up to five children and (extremely) assorted animals.

The first thing to mention about my visit is that Liz gives good directions. Sat nav is positively superfluous when you are armed with such safety-conscious and meticulous instructions - including a current assessment of the degree of obstructive vegetation that might be compromising local signage:

"On this bend you need to turn right (signposted as a dead end IF you can see the sign which is battling with nature). BE CAREFUL HERE as it's a blind bend!!!"

Papillon HQ, where you are never more than 6ft away from a perfume bottle

I forgot to mention that I was a bit late getting to Liz's house, on account of roadwork-related lane closures on the A34 south of Newbury. Consequently, my first words to her after 'Hello' were - in a for me uncharacteristically ungrammatical blurt - 'I have four unreasonable demands I hope that's okay toilet cup of tea may I fill up my water bottle and charge my phone thank you where is the toilet in fact?'

A few minutes later, I was comfortably perched at the island in Liz's vast kitchen, while Liz's partner Simon put the kettle on, Liz cut me a piece of gooey chocolate cake, and my phone charged quietly on a cable reel normally used with the lawn mower. Over tea, I was treated to a smartphone tour of son Rowan's collection of 'monster' images. Well, in fairness some of them may have been his older sisters, but the more we swiped through, the blurrier our definitions seemed to become.

After tea, we adjourned to the living room, which was equally vast and notable for its squashy sofas, comfy jumble of cushions, and occasional stately Bengal threading its way through your legs. At this stage in proceedings Liz sniffed me wearing Salome, whose delicate powdery trail she likened to the way the scent played on her eldest daughter Jasmine's skin. I was quick to point out that Salome had been on me for seven hours already, and promptly reapplied it so that Liz could experience it straight out of the starting blocks in all its raunchy splendour. 'Oh okaay, now that is rather funky!' she laughed. We chatted about some samples I had received lately, and about the different ways natural materials and aromachemicals behave in perfume compositions, eg how relatively predictable a synthetic ingredient is compared to a natural. We agreed that they both have a role to play, and indeed the Papillon range of fragrances seems to gravitate 'naturally' to a 50/50 ratio of each.

Next up, I had a tour of Liz's studio with its floor to ceiling shelves laden with glass bottles and metal canisters of perfumery ingredients. Some of these were thematically grouped according to the perfume they go into, while others were part of Liz's extensive library of materials. A number sported intriguingly oddball names like 'Bornax' and 'Okanaul'. Okay, so I made both of those up, but trust me when I say that the correct names (which I can't immediately bring to mind) were every bit as random. I do remember another bottle that was definitely called Pink Lotus, and which smelt beguilingly of Toffos.

Source: Twitter

I got to sniff a selection of raw materials, including some of the ones that went into Angelique, Tobacco Rose and Salome. I was liberally anointed with African Stone - and not just hyrax, but styrax, castoreum and red bitter orange, mimosa and Turkish rose, plus a foresty number named after the area in France where I accidentally fetched up in a nudist camp. I also had two different mods on my arms of White Moth, a tiare-centric work in progress, and of course the recently refreshed application of Salome! If the truth be told, I was a bit pungent by now, veering to pongy possibly, but I didn't care...

Liz also showed me her stack of notebooks, full of handwritten formulae and jottings about her impressions of different materials, both on their own and in various accords. It was reassuring to see that her work bench bore the scars of battle in the form of numerous marks, scratches and stains(!), as I have managed to strip the polish off my dining room table in a couple of obvious places due to accidents while decanting...;(

'Piccadilly patio': the cat wanted out and the dogs wanted in

Then we were looking out of the window at one point onto a patio area behind the kitchen - specifically because Jicky the cat had escaped and was sloping off towards the clothes line, prompting Liz to ring Simon and ask him to go and catch her (I told you it was a big house!) - and this was the trigger for Liz to tell me a bit about the creation of Tobacco Rose. I admitted right off the bat that while I admire Tobacco Rose, I find a bit prickly/fuzzy and austere, and neither upbeat nor sultry - nor particularly feminine. It's quite haylike on me - and kind of autumnal - and that's as much as I could say about it, other than the fact that I am leaning ever more towards Salome, the surprise grower of the range for a former hater of animalics!

Me being quite haylike on hay, c1974

Liz could understand why Tobacco Rose might not have clicked with me, and explained that it was a perfume with which she had wrestled for a long time, scrapping and tinkering in an endless and at times furious cycle. For by her own admission, she had been in a bad place in her personal life at that time, and the catalyst for Tobacco Rose had been the combination of this inner turmoil and the sight of the trees ranged around her house and the carpet of autumnal leaves on the flagstones of the patio. I think she may have mentioned that it was also windy and/or raining - and even if it wasn't, in the interests of pathetic fallacy I think we can reasonably add some turbulent weather conditions into the mix. So, short story short Tobacco Rose was created in anger, as it were - or an ongoing state of emotional upset - which got me wondering whether the finished scent embodies that conflicted mood at its heart, and whether that is why I didn't bond with it. Liz also lobbed in the observation that if she cooks when she is in a bit of a strop, she reckons that her dishes actually taste different. Which interesting notion is probably fodder for a whole other blog post on its own. ;)

And before we left the studio, because I had been swooning quietly over the scent strip smeared in this, Liz very kindly scooped some flakes of eye-wateringly expensive orris concrete into a plastic bag for me. I have since decanted them into a plastic container that originally had ear plugs in it, given to me some time ago by DJ and blogger Ron Slomowicz of Notable Scents. I knew it would come in handy some day.

Then having retrieved my phone charger, but forgotten to fill my water bottle, I followed Liz on a quick tour of the snake collection, which - in case anyone wants to avoid them - was just to the left of the cockatiels in the hall. They are housed in a sort of filing cabinet system the family refer to as 'racks', and Liz pulled out a few drawers to see which scaly residents were out and who was in - as in under their little platform to the rear of each drawer. Cleo was out but I am very pleased to report that Phantom, the ueber-creepy white Royal Python, was firmly IN, and out of sight. I also noticed a bottle of Hoegaarden on the worktop to one side. Who knew that pedigree snakes are partial to the odd beer?

From Papillon HQ, it was on to Bognor, though not before I had stopped to photograph this wonderfully vintage petrol station in the next village.

The Rockaway Beach Festival is held at Butlins, which has come a long way as a holiday destination since its Red Coat and 'hi-de-hi' days, though if you ask me my honest opinion, not nearly far enough, haha. I was staying offsite in a very traditional B & B, so much so that I got ticked off the next morning at breakfast for inadvertently taking the communal jug of orange juice to my table, and spilling a drop in the process. Meanwhile, the band I had come to see (The Monochrome Set) and its merchandise team had rooms in the two main onsite hotels, memorable for their whimsical touches of nautical imagery and 'towel animals'.

Photo courtesy of Caryne Pearce

The Monochrome Set were playing the Centre Stage, in an auditorium that was disconcertingly reminiscent of a channel ferry, but without the slight rocking motion and dedicated lounge for long distance lorry drivers. But it was afterwards, over a takeaway pizza in the reception area of The Wave Hotel, that the Papillon story continues...For it was here - notwithstanding the fact that we were eating - that I invited the band to smell the remnants of neat African Stone(!) as well as Salome, which was about six hours in now on the second application of the day, and partially washed off by a pre-gig shower. Yes, Bognor may go down in history as the first time I have tried to un-perfume myself before a gig rather than the reverse.

Butlins with its distinctive meringue peaks

The band duly sniffed both the remnants of Salome AND the African Stone, intrigued by my explanation that it was the fossilised excrement of the rock hyrax, an animal I tried to big up by likening it to a robust yet endearing variant on the guinea pig. They continued to chew thoughtfully on slices of the family size pepperoni pizza several of us were sharing, and didn't bat an eyelid - or flare a nostril in disgust.

Now my wearing of actual African Stone may have been a lifetime one off, but in the light of this rock 'n' roll nonchalance in the face of the ne plus ultra of poo, I plan to wear Salome to the next gig without a backward glance...

Segregated scent strips in the festival programme

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Games with frontiers: The Monochrome Set's 'bun fight' tour of Germany and Austria - Part 2: Ebensee and meeting Val in 'Cookie Country'

The final gig of the mini-tour was in Ebensee, a mere 10km from Val the Cookie Queen's home, and the family bike (and muffins!) shop, Armadillos. As things turned out, it was not so much a case of Val going to the gig as the gig going to her. Well, give or take the 10k. But getting from Ravensburg to even Oberoesterreich proved the greatest challenge of all, and at several points in the day we lowered our sights to merely getting back to England 'at some point' - ideally on the scheduled flight from Vienna the next day, but we would have settled for 'at all' when our confidence in the Teutonic transport systems was at its lowest ebb.

Double D dirndl distractions

For the record, this was supposed to be a four train, 'bun fight, reserved, reserved, bun fight' kind of a day. We made it up to Ulm with no bother. Well, apart from a lot of noise from the many groups of revellers got up in Lederhosen and dirndl dresses to commemorate German Reunification Day. Which - somewhat counter-intuitively you might say - is in early October, although the wall came down in November. I remember it well, as I was in the country at the time! Speaking of things coming down, most of the women had that Nell Gwyn-style low neckline, push up corset thing going on, and Steve the drummer complained that he didn't know where to look for cleavage, all of it uniformly pneumatic and distracting.

Source: pinterest

Chimerical destinations

Then at Ulm the games with frontiers began in earnest. Our train - which said Klagenfurt on the front (in the far South East of Austria) - was not in fact the scheduled one, but an 'Ersatz' / replacement service. This meant that the information on the 'composition of trains' board I had carefully studied in advance to minimise everyone's walking with instruments and luggage went totally out the window, and prompted the seven of us to make a mad dash to the opposite end of the platform. Our carriage did exist at least, but four of our reserved seats were in a locked compartment. Here, by the looks of the hat and jacket, a train manager had barricaded himself in, for reasons which quickly became apparent, while our remaining seats had been commandeered by three burly - and surly - looking men. I could do nothing for the moment about the locked compartment, so decided to take on the three men, their burliness notwithstanding.

It was that sort of day, basically

'I'm sorry, but you are in our seats. We have reservations from Ulm to Salzburg.'  

'We've been sat here since Frankfurt.' (This is admittedly a very long way, and it's possible that they were operating on the basis of possession being nine tenths of the law.)

'That's as may be, but we have booked them from Ulm, which is now.'

'It doesn't say that anywhere.'  

'Yes it does, in blue writing above your head.'

At that moment, the train conductor saw I was having problems shifting these seat hoggers and waved us all through to the next carriage, which was first class. Our sense of triumph from this unexpected upgrade was shortlived, however. For no sooner had we sat down when a voice came over the tannoy announcing that the train was terminating at Munich. In vain did I buttonhole staff on our truncated way there about what was going on - they all stoutly denied having any information whatsoever and told us to make inquiries at the Service Point at Munich station. Yeah right - us and 500 other bewildered passengers with travel plans in disarray...

Refugee camp outside Salzburg Hbf

At this rather alarming point in proceedings I messaged Val, who - with the help of her friend Judith - set about tracking down alternative trains that might be running into Austria, by however circuitous a route. Once we got to Munich, I did manage to nab yet another member of staff, who told me that trains had been suspended between Germany and Austria in both directions, due to migrants clambering onto them at the border, and damaging some of the rolling stock in their desperate bid to continue their journey westwards. So instead, the Deutsche Bahn lady told us to jump on a train that was going as far as the town before the border, from where we would be bussed to Salzburg station. She reckoned that the trains would be fine once we got to Austria, albeit we were now running worryingly late for the band to make their sound check.

Val, the roadie with the mostest

Accordingly, a cunning 'Plan B' was hatched: we would take this recommended train and bus combo to get as far as Salzburg (the specific services on our cheap group tickets having long since been overtaken by force majeure-style events!), and then the best onward connection from there. The sound check was renegotiated to a later slot, and Val immediately deployed as a roadie. The original plan had been for me to jump the train at Attnang, the penultimate stop of the day, and to go and visit her home village, but instead, Val 'kidnapped' the band in her capacious people carrier and whisked them to their remote guesthouse half way up a mountain overlooking Ebensee, where they could change and briefly relax.

Band HQ - Gasthaus Kreh

Meanwhile Caryne and Dave and I carried on by train on the last leg of the journey, to be met by Val at Ebensee station after she had dropped the band off at their digs. (And after she had sussed out that - most remarkably for such a small place - there were in fact TWO stations in Ebensee, and that we were at the other one. Cue another comedy moment... ;) Next Val drove Caryne and Dave to their guesthouse on the edges of town, before going back up the mountain to collect the band and drop them off at the venue. Then she picked up Caryne and Dave and took them to the venue to set up their merchandise table, before backtracking to my guesthouse by the train station - are you keeping up? I would quite understand if not, as the pace of Val's ferrying people and their assorted stuff around between the hours of 5 and 8 pm that day was positively dizzying! And I may have got the exact sequence of lifts wrong even so, hehe. So then Val was at last free to bring me to her village for a lightning pitstop: I saw the bike shop, the kitchen(!), and Val's flat. I laid eyes on her perfume collection! I communed with Meep-Meep on the balcony and she nibbled my fringe!

Meep-Meep playing peek-a-boo

And in a blink of an eye it was time to go back - with Val's husband Chris now at the wheel - to Ebensee and to the gig, which was great, albeit sadly cut short, as The Monochrome Set were uncharacteristically not headlining that night. Because of this there was no encore and the band had to get the gear off stage sharpish. Which meant that at one point Val was adorned with Bid the singer's guitar, and told (tongue in cheek, obviously) to 'make herself useful' and take it backstage, with me following on behind carrying a music stand and a bottle of water that had been similarly thrust into my hands.

Kino Ebensee

And after grabbing a bite to eat at my guesthouse, Val and her husband drove everyone home to their respective accommodation, up hill and down dale all over again, only to repeat the same set of journeys early the next morning in reverse - I think in reverse, but my brain is addled with it all! - so as to deposit the seven of us at the train station for the homeward leg to Vienna airport. Oh, on the final morning Val and I did manage breakfast together at my guesthouse before all of that last flurry of 'Fahrerei' / driving around - the very obliging owner was happy to set a place for a 'plus one'.

So looking back, the Ebensee leg of the tour was fraught with stress, yet full of fun and a general sense of what I can best term 'exhilarating enormity', as we tried to overcome each obstacle that presented itself. And Val herself is that rare intersection of the Venn diagram, combining my perfume and music interests in one energetic, capable, super-organised, funny, upbeat, warm and generous person. The plaudits for her help with the logistics that day are still coming in from the band.

"I would be very grateful if you could pass on my thanks to Val for giving up so much of her time to help us. It would have been very, very difficult to manage without her in Ebensee."

And there was praise too for her brownies, individual rations of which were issued on our departure, including vegan variants for Caryne and Dave.

"Please thank her too for the Monochrome brownies, which were very delicious."

"Val's brownies are better than anything in the UK."

Realistically, the gig may not ever come to Val again, but I look forward to the next time Val can come to a gig - most likely in the UK now in 2016. Which will be here before you know it...Unlike trains to Austria, which may not be here any time soon...

The ne plus ultra of brownies

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Games with frontiers: The Monochrome Set's 'bun fight' tour of Germany and Austria - Part 1: Karlsruhe and Ravensburg

Messing about on boats, Karlsruhe
Six months on from the last tour, I have just got back from a trip to Germany and Austria with The Monochrome Set. It was only three gigs and four days away, but we agreed that it felt like at least a week, on account of the early starts and late finishes and the legion logistical problems that confounded us at every turn. But we kept the show on the road - or on the trains when they were running! - and it all came good in the end. Special thanks go out to Val the Cookie Queen from APJ for her epic amounts of roadie-ing on the final leg of the tour, of which more later...

Missing things

I wasn't joking when I said 'early starts', for on Day 1 I was up at 4.20am in my B & B in Tottenham. This pre-dawn hour was so unnatural to my constitution that I managed to leave behind my £400 custom-made gum shield in the communal bathroom, which led to much fretting and gnashing of teeth while I was away - for it is of course gnashing of teeth that it is designed to prevent. In addition to the abandoned mouth guard in London, I had already forgotten several things as soon as I left the house, to wit my brow and eyeliner pencils, a notebook to use as a tour diary, and toothpaste. Arguably, only the lack of toothpaste was key, but I did also pick up a Rimmel kohl pencil and an über-cheapy eyebrow gel mascara by budget brand Essence. Called Make Me Brow, it is a blatant knock-off of Benefit's Gimme Brow but with a better shade of brown ('Browny Brows') for my particular hair colour. I got it in Germany for about three euros, but I see it is available in Wilko's in the UK. Make Me Brow absolutely does the same job and it seems the beauty bloggers who have tumbled to it also agree.

Oh, I never did get a notebook, but just kept nicking those little bedside pads in hotels, as you do. And the odd pen with that, as you also do. But unexpectedly I did have to buy some cleanser, as I couldn't tell if the travel-sized bottle into which I had decanted a transparent liquid some time ago was micellar water or acid peel toner. I mean, better to wake up like a panda than inadvertently rub the latter into your eyes.

This 'missing things' syndrome escalated in unexpected ways later in the trip: once when the entire carriage in which we had reserved seats turned out not to exist, and once when the driver of our moving train was conspicuously absent. The wonky instrument display and missing gearstick which you may just be able to make out in this photo did not escape our notice either. Then the missing carriage - which meant that a tetchy diaspora of 100 plus extra passengers had to be accommodated somehow - almost led to a punch up on the train, as people hotly contested whether the carriage after 268 (which had been assigned the number 266), was logically really 267 (where we had seats booked) in feeble disguise.

This near descent into violence prompted Steve the drummer to coin the phrase 'bun fight' to indicate a train journey for which we were unable to secure advance seat reservations. Each morning he would confirm that day's itinerary with me (as the Gruppenfuehrerin with the Gruppentickets): 'Okay, so it's three trains - bun fight, reserved, bun fight?' Then as our travel arrangements progressively degenerated into chaos, it became apparent that our journeys were simply going to be one long, hot, cross, bun fight. But I will save the ultimate example of missing things syndrome - um...not a carriage, but a whole missing train to Austria - for later.

'Three men in two seats' ~ Photo courtesy of Caryne Pearce

Perfume bottles on walls, and taxing taps

My initial stress about the forgotten items soon dissipated on the Eurostar train bound for Paris, where the toilets were lined with 'trompe l'oeil' subway tiles incorporating a perfume bottle! My joy at this sight eclipsed my complete inability to find the foot pump that operated the water for the sink. As in to even think to look for one in the first place. Instead, I spent several minutes foolishly waving my hands in the general vicinity of the basin in search of one of those new-fangled sensor jobbies, before slapping and twisting the tap in a vain bid to shock it into action. When I got to Austria, I actually had a tap that was activated by being slapped on one side or the other, and hey, I was ready for it. There was no soap, mind, but you can't have everything.

Oddly, seeing perfume bottles on walls that aren't there has been a bit of a theme of late, for I spotted this example at the old Spode pottery factory last week, where I had gone to see the British Ceramics Biennial.

In-train brain games

Despite the Deutsche Bahn's best attempts to thwart us, we still managed to spend a lot of time on trains, and quickly developed a series of mental pursuits to while away the long journeys. (I also had my knitting with me: a green, speculative scarf in moss stitch for which I signally failed to find a taker.) We did crosswords - I embarrassed myself by correctly deciphering one answer as 'thong' - guessed the age of famous people with birthdays (who knew Jimmy Carter was 91?), but the puzzle to end all puzzles has to be the one set by Andy, the bass player: 'Name a tube station in London that doesn't include any of the letters in "mackerel"'. (Answer at the end of this post - sorry I can't make it upside down.)

Incipient second pillows

By mid-afternoon we had arrived in Karlsruhe, our first stopover. Regular readers may recall my banging on about the futility of German pillows, which are typically big square floppy things you have to wrangle, origami-style, into peaks substantial enough to lay your head on. Here - and in my guest house in Austria - I noticed a new phenomenon of an incipient second pillow. These are what I believe are known back home as 'boudoir cushions' in the likes of Dunelm Mill, and I am hoping that by the time of my next visit, they will have grown into full-size pillows with a bit more fight in them than the conventional variety.

Check out the farfalle bedspread!
Tantalising toilet paper

The gig in Karlsruhe was literally round the corner - or at least it was for me and the merch team - while the rest of our party had been relocated at the last minute to what the promoter referred to as 'a much nicer and better hotel', for which  read 'with riotously colourful and busy decor - and no en suite'.

Then the actual room where the gig was held was incredibly cold, due to an over-efficient air con system. Our discomfort was somewhat offset by the system's integration into an amusing 'trompe l'oeil' robot. Then in the single, unisex toilet that served the whole club, I was reassured to read a note on the wall stating that in the event of the loo roll running out - as must surely happen every half hour with this level of traffic - there were ample stocks conveniently perched across bits of pipework by the ceiling.

'Paper view' from the throne
Giant tea bags

Tea bags have been getting bigger for a while on the continent - at least the ones you get in the fancier type of cafe - you know, those silky fabric pyramids on a string, or the long rectangular sachets attached to a bit of cardboard that you have to drape awkwardly over your mug to allow the bag bit to infuse. At the station in Karlsruhe where we had breakfast before catching our train, I noticed that even the conventional paper tea bags had been quietly getting longer - and wider. This disproportionate size of bag to mug or glass is not necessarily a trend to be welcomed, however, for with its sheer size comes added strength, and those who favour a weak to medium brew need to be pretty darn quick off the mark with their bag removal.

The gum shield hunt

Our next stop was Ravensburg, a heartstoppingly picturesque town not far from the Bodensee, bristling with towers on every corner. I had no time to do the tourist trail, sadly, being focused on the important task of scoring a temporary gum shield. For I was struggling to sleep without one, and my teeth felt hot and sore in the morning, suggesting that what little sleep I had managed was spent in grinding mode. After a scurry round the town, I found a chemist with a solution to be going on with, though not before they had offered me a box of cloth face masks of the kind favoured by Japanese people concerned about catching flu or 'worries over micro particulate matter following the earthquake and nuclear accident of 2011'. In the end I bought a whitening kit, on the strict understanding that before retiring I would thoroughly rinse out the gel that had been pre-applied to the mouth guards. I could of course spend 20 minutes actually whitening my teeth beforehand if I wanted to, but on this tour there was never a spare 20 minutes for anything...

Photo courtesy of Caryne Pearce
The Zehntscheuer

The gig in Ravensburg was held in a converted tithe barn (or 'Zehntscheuer' in German), which is odd, as that is the name of my road! It had the most wood of any venue I have ever been to, and it wouldn't have surprised me if the entire backline had been hewn out of oak, though luckily for the band it wasn't. Our good friends Kenji and Ronny had come down from Augsburg for the gig, which was enthusiastically received by a mixture of fans and people who were there to enjoy a meal and whatever music happened to be on offer. Though one person walked out when the singer made a quip about the parlous state of Bob Dylan's toilet, a story which I see has been covered (though happily not in the Biblical sense) by a member of our perfume community - Avery Gilbert of First Nerve!

Photo courtesy of Caryne Pearce

Coming up in Part 2 - border-related train shenanigans and Val the Cookie Queen's heroic feats of ferrying!

Tube station teaser answer - St Johns Wood (no, I didn't get it either).