Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Let bygones be Byzance: a tale of two house clearances, featuring a guest post - and a surprise spot of rapping! - by my (late) mother

Travel poster by Harry Riley
A few months ago, Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery kindly sent me a partial bottle of Rochas Byzance, remembering my nostalgic association of the scent with my mother, albeit for reasons upon which all bona fide perfumistas would frown. The full story may be found here, on the remote offchance that there are still any readers who have managed to escape my repeated references to it(!). Now hopefully Liz won't mind my mentioning that she recently celebrated her 47th birthday, while my mother would have turned 97 in May. The 50 year difference in their ages I find oddly portentous, I don't know why, and despite the immense cultural changes that have occurred between 1920 and 1970 I feel sure they would have got on famously, not least through a shared love of food - and drink (which in my book is A Good Thing ;) ).  And like Liz, my mother was a free spirit, and managed to turn the heads of locals in Halkidiki on a solo cycling holiday at the age of 76.

The trigger for this post was the recent sudden death of an old work associate and neighbour, who lived round the corner from the house I used to share with Mr Bonkers. This lady's only blood relative, a cousin in the South of England, rang me up the other day to ask if I was coming to the funeral, and mentioned in passing that at some point he would need to come up again to sort his cousin's house out. I told him I knew just what that was like, having done two 'long distance' house clearances myself for each of my parents (who didn't live together in later life). As I am local, I offered to help this chap out on the ground, should he need it when the time comes.




And that got me thinking about a remarkable house clearance that my mother carried out, which led to her writing a feature about the experience that was aired on Woman's Hour in 1968. Her voice on the tape is so cut glass as to be hilarious - almost as royal-sounding as the Queen! I am sorry you can't press a button on here to fully appreciate her plummy tones. I have no recall of my mother ever talking like that, I might add - and I was nine at the time, so was old enough to notice such things - maybe she was putting on her poshest voice specially for the BBC. ;)

So here is the transcript of her broadcast instead - Mother's 'guest post' if you will.

"Do it! You should just see the muddle. But two days were all that I could spare away from the family. So in spite of the warnings, off I went on the plane to Exeter, to sort out the effects left by Aunt Ina. The last time I had seen my aunt was over thirty years earlier. On that occasion I was fifteen years old, suddenly orphaned by my mother's death. At a grisly meeting I sat mute while Aunt Ina and three of my uncles discussed the question: 'What shall we do with Peggy?'. I think what increased the grisliness of the meeting was that it took place in the refreshment room of Victoria Station. Almost as bad as being found in a handbag on a platform for the Brighton line. But the line was immaterial, and so was the refreshment room, except that it was there that my aunt said that she could neither have me to live with her nor contribute to my upkeep - and that was the last I saw of her.

As it happened we got on well together at the meeting, and though we corresponded at intervals, I have never seen her again. Now she had made me her residual legatee and I had to sort out the residue. And although I had been warned, when I was actually in my aunt's house I was taken aback by the task that confronted me, for it seemed that my aunt was eccentric in that she could never throw anything away. Drawers and cupboards were full to overflowing. I could hardly walk around the sitting room. The solicitor said: 'When I went to see your aunt, she'd be sitting at the table, and she'd simply push with both hands until all the things on it would mount into a hill at the back, and then she'd have a space on which to write.'

It was strange getting to know my aunt after she was dead, but one can't go through a person's possessions without having a pretty complete portrait of the person who possessed them. No one could live in such confusion without having a total disregard for housewifely pursuits. The drawers revealed such things as empty cigarette cartons, half empty boxes of forgotten sweets, Christmas cards from way back. There were also papers on how to win on football pools and how to develop a system of betting on horses. Which is odd, for the second thing I discovered about my aunt was that she was quite detached about money. In every drawer I emptied there was money: half crowns, sixpences, even farthings. All with that odd feeling to the touch that long unused coins have. There were pound notes in old purses - or just left in the pages of an old notebook. There were coins in the kitchen drawers and pound notes in the pockets of her coats. But the crowning discovery was a roll of eight five pound notes lying behind her bed. It's odd how money found in these circumstances doesn't feel quite real, just paper. I suppose because it's in a sort of limbo, neither earned nor given.

I had a bonfire going for two days steadily, burning letters, old clothes, magazines, newspapers and photographs. Ah, those photographs...my aunt had obviously been a keen photographer and there were thousands of photographs: groups of happily smiling people who meant nothing to me. There were some of my mother and father that I'd not seen before and I was glad to have these. But I felt sad as I saw those records of her happy days going up in flames. There's no point in keeping meaningless snaps. And yet I felt ruthless in destroying a tangible past. And ruthless I had to be to clear out this mess in two days. But there were moments when I had to pause, when I dug up real bits of treasure - to me at any rate. I began to see the reason for the lack of domesticity as I found evidence of the adventurous life my aunt had led in her youth.

A small black book, closely written, I discovered to be the log book of a small boat in which she and two men - one her first husband - tried to circumnavigate Africa in the days before journeys in small boats were commonplace. And then a yellowing sheet from a Sunday Herald published in 1925, in which she describes life among the Rif in Spanish Morocco, where apparently she was the only white woman. Exciting enough, I thought, until I came across another from The Times of that year which told how a beautiful English woman known as 'Lovely Nellie' had been held hostage, as her husband and another man had been caught gun running.

How I wish then she was there to tell me of the adventures only partially revealed by these tantalising snippets! She obviously made friends easily judging by her foreign correspondence, and she was popular with the local people, although she was reserved and did not speak of herself much. She had an inventive mind, and I came across draft inventions she planned to have patented. What else did I discover about my aunt? She loved earrings and brooches and makeup. She collected  stamps and cigarette cards, pens and boxes of matches. It wasn't until four o'clock on the second day that I finally cleared the space in her bedroom and gathered together the things I wanted sent to me in Northern Ireland. Things I knew she wanted me to have: a Japanese rosewood chair that belonged to my grandmother, some Japanese vases, and some slices of family history which I shall enjoy piecing together. I felt then that I'd come through a long, dark tunnel. It had been a chastening experience in several ways. Chiefly I'm thinking of all the lumber one accumulates over the years - that someone might have to do this for me. In a modified way, it's true, but do I really need all the stuff that's in my attic? And are all the letters in my desk really worth keeping?

But chastening and exhausting though this experience was, it had its rewarding side, and I felt I could close my two days in Devon by making an announcement: 'Gained posthumously, an aunt'."

I can picture some of the treasures from Great Aunt Ina's house - little lacquered tables and sets of drawers, all manner of jewellery, a ceremonial sword and a scimitar, one or both of which are now in my brother's loft. And I 'inherited' a lifesize toy cat with white fur. At least I hope it was a toy - it was worryingly realistic, I do remember that...If I still had it, I could make it stand sentry at the back door, to scare Tootsie away. ;)

Now I have just looked up Ina in our family tree and found out some other interesting titbits about her. She got married to her first husband, a shipper and ship builder, in 1922, when she was 22 and he was 54! One of the witnesses was named as F C Voysey, eerily close to C F Voysey, but surely that would be too much of a coincidence, even though he was living nearby at the time...


Source: Wikimedia Commons (SpudGun67)

 Also, Ina and her first husband lived at 118, Long Acre, in Covent Garden, a hop and a skip away from Bloom! Where it seems Dame Margot Fonteyn also lived, but not at the same time, and doubtless not in the same flat. ;) Then Husband No 1 died in February 1930, and Ina was married again by June of that year! Husband No 2 was only 48, and she was 31. Ina clearly liked older men, though at least they are getting progressively younger with each union.




What else has come to light? Ina was one of only three female members of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club in 1927. (Mother donated Ina's copy of the Rule Book from that year to the club in 1985, prompting the reply below from the club's secretary, which probably isn't legible, I know.) To be a member as a woman in those days you had to own your own yacht, and Ina's was a 50-foot long wooden sailing yacht called Silver Crescent, built in 1886. The secretary adds that out of 800 club members, there are 80 women now, so it sounds like even back in the '80s, the glass hull was well on its way to being broken.




And I have to smile reading the broadcast back, because it was me of course that got the gig of sorting out Mother's effects after her death. I immediately rehomed Ferraby, the plush duck, and Pinky, the towelling pig. The latter had been sitting in her wing back chair ever since she was hurriedly taken into hospital, waiting patiently for her return.


Pinky's new chair in Stafford

Then Mother's paperwork was contained in a single concertina file, and fortuitously her bank account had just enough left in it to cover her funeral. The only part of the house where she had exhibited 'Aunt Ina-like behaviours' was in the kitchen...the drawers were crammed full of old corks and buttons and safety pins and pennies and broken pottery and oozing tubes of Savlon - and much more in that vein - while the pantry was a treasure trove of pre-1982 spices. This being...ahem...1999. But it was a privilege to tie up the loose ends of my mother's life, and I didn't begrudge the triage of a single odd or end. Disposing of someone else's belongings is a weighty responsibility, characterised by a myriad of quick fire decisions that require a judicious blend of empathy and - as Mother herself says - ruthlessness.




And what about the bottle of Byzance I had given mother so thoughtlessly three years previously? Not a trace. I did, however, find this bottle of Opium in her sponge bag, that has morphed 18 years later into a rich and treacly concoction, while smelling by no means 'off' to my nose. I have dated it to the early 90s, which sounds plausible. I don't know how Mother came by it - a gift from a friend, her bridge partner, an impulse purchase in Boots, like me with the Rochas - who knows? It's well over half empty though, suggesting she did rather like it.

And this story would not be complete without a mention of Liz's rescue hen, Peggy, whom she kindly named after my mother. I knitted Peggy a jumper when she first arrived at Papillon Animal Sanctuary, to keep her warm until her threadbare plumage grew back. And I am pleased to note that Peggy the chicken also likes a tipple. ;)




In a bizarre turn of events, ex-Mr Bonkers turned my mother posthumously into a co-rapper in this song, along with Birmingham-based rapper, Tijhs Jordan. She really gets a groove on, and if you listen very closely, you may just be able to hear her repeat the phrase 'a small black book', interspersed with Tijhs's own take on Ina's travelling exploits. I'd say he is 'riffing' off them, but that might be a pun - and an 'f' - too far. Oh, and actually, you can get an idea of her plummy voice in the song!

Link to the track ('Hope/The River') here (and further background on it here - it is a partly original (very original!!), partly cover / tribute piece).

The last artefact I came across relating to my great aunt was this copy of a letter sent to my mother in April, 1959, in which Ina hopes that her 'forthcoming event' goes smoothly. Why, that would be my own arrival, a month later!




And although there is mention of Ina liking makeup and jewellery, of perfume there is nary a word. With her smoking habit (maybe she even had an actual habit - and cap - like Rachael Potts' husband Tony?!), and love of betting - not to mention her swashbuckling seafaring persona - I could see Ina in Tabac Blond, Habanita or Cuir de Russie, perfumes all squarely dating from the time she was...er...busily dating - and getting hitched!

Finally, here is a photo of Mother's old house in Swindon, which is currently on the market, I see. It was my house first in fact, before I sold it to her when I moved to Stafford. Those are the very shelves I put up in 1986! (I may have had some help.)








Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Another Bonkers perfume sale!

I have been having a torrid week so far, including several more whiffy incursions by Tootsie. The only humorous aspect to any of the predominantly bad things that have been kicking off lately was the sight of Truffle leaping backwards several feet in the air after clawing her scratching post, for all the world as though she had seen a cucumber (that mythically frightening vegetable). Then, perplexed at her dramatic reaction to a familiar toy, she went back for another attempt - doubtless to check she wasn't imagining things - and instantly leapt backwards again! When I sniffed the pole I knew immediately that it was Tootsie's malodorous calling card that had freaked her out to such spectacular effect. Anyway, the scratching post is in the bin, with another on order. A chap whom I can best describe as the upholstery cleaning equivalent of the SAS has been in today to deep clean the sofa, the target of previous urinous acts of terrorism.





I have also been suffering from an identity crisis, following the receipt of these emails:

"Greetings from Vicky of Threeway Steel Co., Ltd China
Glad to know that your esteemed company is in the market of steel pipes."

AND this, from a PR Executive with the incomparable name of Flo Birmingham:

"We are hosting a beauty event on Thursday for the launch of Spotlight Teeth Whitening. It is a pop in event open from 10am to 6pm and there will be manicures, blowdries, braids, goodie bags and dental consultations with the Spotlight founders, dentist sisters Dr Lisa and Dr Vanessa Creaven. We'd love to have you there."





Too right it is a "pop in event". And I would have quite fancied "popping in a whitening strip" and chatting to the namesake dentist sister and my fellow attendees with (presumably) a couple of horsehoes of plastic in my mouth.

But I can't really slip down to London at the moment. Meanwhile, I lost one big job prospect and may have gained a smaller one in its place. In view of the precarious work situation overall (as in I haven't had any since April), I decided that it was time for another bottle and decant sale. This differs from past sales in that I am putting forward some perfumes I am happy to part with, plus others that I would happily have kept. Realistically, however, I have too many, and they are more useful to me at the moment in 'liquid' form...that's not quite the metaphor I am searching for. ;)

I will organise the stock into two main categories: Newly Listed Bottles & Decants and Old Suspects! The latter have all been reduced in price, to allow for a bit of depreciation since last year. As you know, I am only able to post perfume within the UK, due to being a convicted felon. I can at lesat offer a range of postal options ie 1st or 2nd class, with or without recorded / signed for delivery, though the latter is a bit safer, I always think. Allow an extra £3 to £4.50 depending on your preferred option.



Newly Listed Bottles & Decants

Cuir de Lancome 50ml (c47ml remaining) - £45 [SOLD]

This is a 50ml bottle and there's a few ml missing from the top, though I have a little bit left in my current one so I am a bit puzzled as to why this should be. However, I can only conclude I must have done a little decant for someone from it.

Oh, and the bottle has that notorious wonky top, without which no bottle of Cuir de Lancome would be complete!, together with the built-in shape sorting puzzle of the box that prompted a post all on its own.

Why oh why did they discontinue this beauty?






MAC Naked Honey 20ml (c9ml remaining) - £12

This (also discontinued) scent from 2009 became a bit of a cult classic, and is noted for its unusual honey and linden note combo. The bottle design is rather wacky too, and should appeal to Undina and beekeepers everywhere.







Armani Prive La Femme Bleue (c4.5ml) - £17

For lovers of chocolate and incense, this is a beauty: I paid £40 for a 10ml decant. I see that Surrender to Chance are charging $80+ for a 3ml spray vial, which is over £60, or an eyewatering £20 per ml! There is a slight sticky residue on the collar, which I haven't tried to get off with acetone for fear of contaminating the scent. I could decant this into a fresh atomiser if people would like.






YSL Opium Fleur de Shanghai (c13ml) - £15 [SOLD]

This is a decant of the 2005 flanker (a sort of summer edition) to Opium, also sadly extinct, though in fairness I think it was launched as a LE. Ayala Moriel is a big fan and it was her review that drew me to seek this one out. I much prefer it to classic Opium, Coco Chanel, and other heavy hitting spicy orientals. It isn't light as such, but has a brighter feel due to the inclusion of notes like magnolia.






Serge Lutens Chergui (c14ml) - £16

I am pretty sure this is a 30ml bottle, and the fill level is about half. Chergui needs no introduction, which is just as well, as it is so cosily weird that I wouldn't quite know where to begin.






Hermes Hermessence Santal Massoia (c13ml) - £25

This is a travel spray of which I have used a couple of ml. It's worth having just for the adorable cloth bag in my view, though it does smell lovely as well.






Tom Ford Cafe Rose (c17ml) - £30

I swapped my partial bottle of White Suede for this in a blind swap, but while I am a lover of rose, I am not a coffee drinker and this was 'insufficiently rosy' for me, to quote my friend Jessica's phrase.






NB I was umming and ahhing about selling my half bottle of Tauer PHI Rose de Kandahar, but am not quite able to let it go yet. Check out the next sale though, just in case!



Old Suspects! 

Still looking for their forever homes, as black cats are wont to do, though to their credit, two of my fellow perfume bloggers have adopted just such colourways. 


Annick Goutal Grand Amour 100ml (a good 50ml remaining!) - £26





Bois de Jasmin is a fan of this one, giving it a solid four stars, and it would suit lovers of hyacinth, which is quite prominent in the opening.

Rykiel Woman Not for Men! 40ml (c17ml remaining) - £17

Don't be put off by the garish bottle...this could pass for a niche scent in a blind sniffing test. An amber/musk/leather number, beloved of Marla from Perfume Smelling Things (review here). I see a fair bit of crossover with Soir de Marrakech from Les Parfums du Soleil (though that is a bit obscure), and L'Erbolario Meharees (slightly less obscure!), which is in turn a bit of a dupe for Musc Ravageur. In that general vein, say. You can buy it still on Amazon, but only in the 125ml size for £150 odd, and no one needs that much of anything, obviously.





B by Boucheron edp 50ml (c45ml remaining) - £19 

Calling osmanthus lovers! Box available but a bit bashed, sorry.





Kenzo L'Eau par Kenzo Eau Indigo pour Femme edp 50ml (c28ml remaining) - £16

This bottle was pre-owned by Michelyn Camen of Cafleurebon. ;) Here's the entry from Fragrantica, which rates it 3.8.





Perfume-Related 'Merchandise'

And finally, I have tacked on a category to accommodate a perfume cushion cover to fit a 16"/40cm square pad. It is in a shot silk-like fabric (that may indeed be silk!), is based on a design by the artist Bridget Davies, and was one of only two she had left. Selling for £45 on its own, £50 with cushion. (See also the photo at the top of the post.) Close up of perfume bottle motif below.





And here is the reverse...







The main background colours are what I could best describe as gunmetal blue, and a greyish light blue. I can of course post this anywhere in the world at whatever international rate applied.

So there you have it. I am open to minor haggling around the margins, bulk discounts (I wish!) and other forms of BOGOF and promotional jiggery-pokery, but let's see how it goes. If there is something you are interested in, you can contact me via Facebook, if we are friends on there, or by email - flittersniffer at gmail dot com.

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Isabel Trail: a spontaneously circuitous sillage-seeking cycle ride

Source: visitstafford.org
There's no more news to report of the war on Tootsie...well, other than the fact that I have swapped the positions of Truffle's water and food bowls around - so the food bowl is now by the entrance to the dining room, and hence that bit further for an incorrigible cat burglar to venture in pursuit of kibble contraband. Truffle seems mightily perplexed by the switch, and has taken to staking out her water bowl, lounging pointedly just in front of it and shooting me disapproving glances over one shoulder, even as I crouch a few feet away, rattling the contents of her newly relocated food station. Oh, and I also had occasion to chase Tootsie out of the garden and down the service road by the side of my house at 2.20am on Saturday morning, Anti-Cat in hand. He hunkered down under a white van for a while, before sprinting towards a garden wall on his own street and leaping over it to safety, so nary a squirt was fired. If there are any major developments, however, I will be sure to report back!


Source: Stafford Borough Council

Meanwhile, I have decided to get off my backside this summer and do some exercise. No, really. I know I include some variant of the 'exercise more!' imperative in my New Year's post with monotonous regularity - albeit it was couched as generating 'teeming neurons' this year - but you may be sure it is the  same hoary old resolution chestnut that is safe to disregard, just as I do. But a July resolution smacks of something more serious. Various things have conspired to make me feel like shaking a leg a bit more: I had my bike fixed recently, which set me back £75 for a new tyre and two inner tubes, so I feel I should get my money's worth from that repair; also Val the Cookie Queen of APJ has been bigging up the health benefits of squats recently, such that I have even started to do some sets every time I reheat my tea in the microwave (which is quite often!). Then on Sunday I also happened to take some promo photos of ex-Mr Bonkers, posing with a new gig bag he's bought - they are to be included in his application to the manufacturer to be one of their product 'endorsers'. As a thank you he offered to give me back the home gym I had given him some 17 years ago(!), which he has not used in all that time. I had in fact been thinking lately that even though I barely do exercise of any kind myself at the moment - apart from a fairly fitful attendance at a Pilates class - I do even less of anything resembling weight training, so I jumped at his offer.


Source: productreview.com.au


With all these good intentions whirring round in my brain, I leapt out of bed this morning and got dressed to go for a jog. Only to find that the soles of both my trainers were hanging off and will need professional gluing by a cobbler. Okay, it's a bike ride then! Accordingly, I found myself uncharacteristically cycling the length and length (it's not very broad) of the Isabel Trail, a cycle path that weaves its way between the industrial estates of Stafford, from the northern perimeter of the town down to somewhere south of the middle. The path is overhung in places by a canopy of trees, and if it weren't for the intermittent cacophony of industrial noises emanating from factory units left and right, you could easily fancy yourself in the country!


Source: Google Sites

Occasionally I would overtake a jogger, or a walker on the path, including at one point a mature lady dressed in what I took to be the uniform of the Royal Voluntary Service, though I wouldn't swear to that. She wore a bottle green skirt and a button down white blouse, topped off with a lanyard, and seemed set on walking to the very end of the path. As I went up and down the trail, revelling in the faux-rural feel in the midst of an urban area, I passed this lady from both directions, When I came up from behind I could distinctly smell her perfume, though not when I cycled past her going the other way. Intrigued by her pleasantly powdery sillage, I made a point of cycling up and down even more(!) to catch further whiffs of whatever it was she was wearing. Eventually, it struck me that she might be a little alarmed by my repeated overtaking manoeuvres, so I decided to come clean the next time I approached, and ask her straight out what she was wearing.


A little side path I also rode down ~ Source: Jim Fogarty

"Kenzo Flowers!" the lady replied cheerily, to which I replied that I had the Oriental version, and that she smelt lovely in the original. "What a good start to a Monday!" I added, as much to apologise for my weird stalking as to compliment her on her choice of scent. She beamed back at me, and I was glad we had had that little exchange: my curiosity was satisfied and her morale boosted, or so it seemed - in short a win-win, as they say.

Once home, I went straight to the cupboard under the stairs and fished out my vial of Flower by Kenzo (to give it its official name) from a little plastic bag where it has been languishing for all of 8 years at a guess. I sprayed it on, and whilst I still prefer its darker and more edgy Oriental sibling, I can see why Tania Sanchez gave it a generous four stars, and why my go-to review resource of Bois de Jasmin (from whom I have pinched the notes) upped that to five.

Notes: "Wild hawthorn, Bulgarian rose, Parma violet, cassia, hedione, cyclosal, opoponax, white musk, vanilla."





In her review, Tania Sanchez mentions how Luca Turin spotted the striking resemblance between Flower by Kenzo and Caron's Royal Bain de Champagne, the bubble bath version of which I was kindly given by my friend Rachael Potts. I can totally see that connection, albeit Flower has more overt notes of rose and violet as far as I can recall, spiked with shafts of jasmine, like the sun dappling the path this morning through the tangle of trees. But that whole tender, expansive, vanilla / opoponax baby powder thing?...both scents have got it going on big style.

What is also interesting about this morning's events, apart from the Caron similarity which had hitherto passed me by, and for which I have the lady in green indirectly to thank, is that I could immediately visualise in which little polythene bag in which box my sample was lurking, even though I hadn't gone near it in years. Which got me wondering if anyone else reckons they have a photographic memory of their collection. I must say I surprised myself that I could drill down to the very plastic bag in question!




So...getting a bit of fresh air and exercise, and bonding with a Kenzo scent whose charms I had largely overlooked, was indeed a great way to kick off the week. I even sat at my desk with my feet on a spiky massage ball for a bit this morning.

Wherever will it all end? Doubled up in bed groaning? Yes, maybe...!