Sunday, 11 November 2018

Palindromes and French leave(s)

Topic advisory: this isn't a post about perfume, if any readers are selective in that regard. It isn't about make up or skincare or my travels with the band either, though it does have a travel theme. For this week I flew to France to sign a 'compromis de vente' - which approximates to a sales agreement, and is the first legal step in buying a house over there. In property purchase terms it could best be likened to an engagement perhaps - I have to go back later for the marriage itself(!), or 'acte authentique de vente' (deed of sale).

You may well ask how all this came about, for I realise it sounds rather sudden - impulsive even. Well, I have stayed with my friend L in her house in the Correze - a hop and a skip from the Dordogne - for the past three summers, and documented two of these holidays on the blog, eg here. I did actually say even on my first visit two years ago that it felt like coming home. Then this summer a little house popped up for sale a few doors down her street. We had two viewings with the estate agent, and a few weeks later, after consulting a dozen or so friends and associates with experience of owning property overseas, or of legal or financial matters or big life decisions generally - in short, people endowed with a good dollop of common sense as I did not want my friends to act simply as an echo chamber - I put an offer in which was accepted. Including the solicitor's and estate agent's fees (the buyer pays the latter here!), plus taxes and some furniture, the price comes out at just over £40,000. You could buy three such houses for the price of a small terrace in Stafford, so it seemed like a bargain I couldn't let slip away - that was certainly the consensus of the people I spoke to who already had houses in France.

The house last summer

As a holiday home I am well aware that it would be rather a luxury, so all being well, I hope to move there full-time when I finally retire, and to keep the place ticking over meanwhile in terms of running costs. I am not ready to emigrate yet, as I have all sorts of ties still in Blighty. Plus my economic status at the moment is too shaky for me to be allowed to stay in France for more than three months of the year - with my current level of earnings I would be considered a burden on the state. That all changes, however, once I hit 66 and am in receipt of a state pension. At that point the French government considers it quite normal for a person to be 'economically inactive'(!), and takes a more benign view of immigrants and the minimum income they must bring with them.

The other day - those shutters need a lick of lead-free paint! (see below)

To fund the purchase I broke into a long term investment product I had previously considered strictly as a pension pot. I do see this as forward planning for my retirement though. Yes, the whole thing feels a bit as though I were a student who accidentally falls pregnant at university and decides to keep the baby and muddle through her studies somehow, in the hope that it will all come good in the end. A case of the right decision at the wrong time you could say. But there again, if I set out to look for a house in seven years' time, specifically in my friend's village, never mind her street, I might look in vain - or find something, but not be able to afford it. So I decided to take the plunge, secure my retirement home now, and put it behind my ear for later. Or rather use it as a holiday home to be going on with, and as an opportunity to gradually find out more about the ins and outs of living in France. I did spend an academic year on the Riviera as it happens, teaching English in a school, but that was forty years ago!, so things will surely have changed since then. And I didn't own a home, obviously, so there will be much to learn. As ex-Mr Bonkers' mother advised, my MO will be one of 'creep and go'.

So that is the background...and here is some more on the trip itself...

I had bagged a cheap flight from Bristol to Limoges, and there was the usual mayhem and ground-to-a-halt chaos on the roads around Birmingham, topped off with gridlock in Bristol itself, the centre of which seemed to have been entirely dug up! Then I was next to a baby on the plane, as is always the way - I attract them as a magnet does iron filings - though to the infant's credit it slept much of the flight. At the other end I picked up a gratifyingly tiny hire car, and an hour and a half later was installed in the simple but well appointed studio accommodation I had booked through Airbnb. It was located at the back of the owners' garage, and my hostess kindly showed me a labyrinthine route from my flat to their quarters, in case I was 'ill in the night'.

My studio accommodation

The house was situated on a long residential road, high above the little town where the solicitor's office was, and where I was due to do the deed in a couple of days' time. Or not the deed deed, but the earlier one I mentioned, obvs. ;) After unpacking my bulging Ryanair-compliant hand luggage, I scurried down a steep, pitch black road in the general direction of the lights below, and once I reached town, soon ascertained that all the supermarkets shut on the dot of 7.30pm, and I had no supplies bar an apple. Luckily, the barman at the one hotel in town stepped into the breach and sold me a litre of UHT milk at cost price, and I also scored a warm pizza slice from the bakery just as it was closing.

The patio outside my studio

The next day I had a productive meeting with that traditional tourist mecca, the water board(!), about how to read the meter at the point of handover from one owner to another. I was even given different models of meter to study, so that I knew which numbers were which on any possible design I might encounter. I also met two lovely ladies at the office of a big French insurance company. One of them normally works mornings in a little branch just behind my house-to-be. 'Oh, we will be neighbours!' she remarked brightly. I am strongly inclined to place my business with her, because at least five times a week she will be able to check my house hasn't burnt down or the roof blown off. It is in her interest to keep an eye on it, after all, to preempt any claims on my side. ;)

After extensive reconnoitring, I can tell you that this little town where the solicitor is boasts not one but two opticians - unless I was seeing double? - a book shop, an abattoir, a wine merchant, a manufacturer of duvet fillings, a flour mill...and that blessed endangered species, a wool shop. Of course I had to go and patronise it, and bought a ball of wool to make wristwarmers with. When I went back a couple of days later, the owner remembered me and said she hoped I wasn't after any more of the same yarn, only someone had been in that morning and snapped it all up! Luckily I was after a different colour...

Autumn in all its mellow yellowness

After custom buying a few French foodstuffs for friends, and before I went back up the hill to my digs, I couldn't resist a peep in the windows of two estate agents to check I hadn't missed any other local property gems. But no, I am happy to report that there was nothing that could remotely have swayed me from my choice...

The next morning I had an early appointment at the bank in 'my' village, to finalise the paperwork required to open an account. I handed over 75 euros to get it started, and ordered a debit card. The bank clerk sent a temporary access code to my mobile so that I could manage my account online, and seemed frankly astonished that it reached my UK number with a few moments' delay. The last time I had a French bank account - in Cannes in 1979 - there were no such things as debit cards or cash dispensers, and I only had a cheque book instead. I wasn't offered a cheque book on this occasion, times having moved on!

The solicitor's office

Then it was back to the town where I was staying, and at noon in the solicitor's waiting room I met the estate agent and the vendor (who lives opposite the house I am buying - it was she and her late husband's holiday home till they retired and moved to the village full-time, rendering it redundant).

The meeting was held in a grand office with extremely tall windows. It was conducted in French, though the estate agent was on hand to help if I got stuck on anything. While the solicitor nipped out to the photocopier, I mentioned to the others the random trivia fact that the date of 8.11.18 was a palindrome - well, it is if you budge the numerals up a bit as you go backwards - which seemed to make the occasion even more momentous.

I have bought this bed and chairs!

The only word I had to ask the meaning of in the event was the one for asbestos, which had come up in the French equivalent of a survey. Which fortunately I don't have, along with a very low risk of earthquakes, flooding, industrial pollution, landslides, subsidence, and unsympathetic new developments. There are, however, highish levels of radon gas in the area, though not especially in the village. The solicitor, who was born here, pretended to be alarmed about this, and said she hoped she would live long enough to complete our conveyancing. Then I also learnt that I am termite- and dry rot-free, but there are traces of lead in the exterior paint used on the house - so no sucking the window frames, then, as Val the Cookie Queen observed. And the survey also threw up a few 'electrical anomalies', though to be fair I am still discovering the full gamut of electrical anomalies in my house here in Stafford, six years on. As luck would have it, the next day I bumped into one of the two recommended electricians in the village. I told him about my 'anomalies', and he gave me his card, looked reassuringly unfazed, and said that as soon as I was ready he'd pop up and take a look.

The house gives good door

Yes, the community feeling I sensed in the village and neighbouring town where I stayed - after three days of not even being a home owner - was remarkable. The lady in the second hand shop explained how to convert an old fashioned linen cupboard into a conventional wardrobe with the aid of a glide rail or two, and offered to keep an eye out for one for me. She can also organise a van to take away any furniture left behind in the house I don't want to keep, which will go to charity.

 And on my last night, my Airbnb host invited me to join her and her husband in the main house to 'wet the sales agreement's head' (roughly translated ;) ) with champagne and canapes. There was a moment of utter confusion when the husband pointed out that a log in the grate looked like a 'chevreuil' (deer), which I got mixed up with 'chevrefeuille' (honeysuckle), prompting me to make an inane comment about its having a sweet smell. We had a wide ranging conversation which covered patchwork families, Brexit, young (and not so young!) people's obsession with selfies, the weather, the soil, views on incomers, tradesmen tips and much more. I learnt the words for 'chimney sweep', 'loophole' and 'up your own a**e'. I do need a chimney sweep as it happens, and am sure I will have much recourse to the 'a**e' phrase. When I retired to my studio two hours later, I felt pleasantly squiffy and not really hungry, so I ended up having my microwavable ham and cheese crepe - and as many other random leftovers as I could force down me - for breakfast the next morning.

I will be back soon, and though it is a while before I would begin to contemplate living here full-time for the reasons I explained, this trip has already had a profound effect. I do believe I could settle there quite nicely, even though the pace of life is very, very slow. My host summed up the village where I am buying with the comment: 'Some nice houses, but a bit dead', adding: 'I guess it depends what you like really!' I would sum up the people in the area as down to earth, warm and kind, and as long as you are not up your own 'a**e' you will fit right in.

So yes, sorry this is far away from perfume - that said, I can report that I wore Aroma M Geisha Botan on the signing day! - but it is a major thing going on in my life at the moment, such that it would have felt odd not to write about it...

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Hallowe'en Bah Humbug, and results of the 9th blog anniversary dishcloth draw!

Where do you stand on Hallowe'en? No really, it is a serious question. Me, I am becoming increasingly Bah Humbug about what I am astonished to learn has become 'our second favourite family celebration behind Christmas'. And that is a headline from The Daily Mail, so it must be true...ahem. I can also feel a creeping Bah Humbugness coming on about Christmas in fact - with its dispiritingly excessive consumerism - so I guess the highly manufactured commercial occasion of Hallowe'en was a natural casualty.

When I was a child growing up in Northern Ireland, Hallowe'en was the only cause for festivities - Guy Fawkes passed us completely by. Instead, we threw ourselves headlong into the serious business of wearing 'false faces' (the Ulsterism for masks), eating toffee apples in the days when we had the teeth to take it, bobbing for apples in the days when we had full neck mobility, and of course lighting fireworks. Though not after about 1968, when letting off fireworks at home was banned due to The Troubles, and it was a case of either attending public displays of pyrotechnics or bust. Additionally, our father had a student who would sometimes act as MC at my Hallowe'en parties, and whose star turn was making a ring move on the end of a string by the power of thought alone. And she had more tricks up her sleeve besides that. Speaking of tricks, we didn't do Trick or Treating in those days, or get dressed up, or decorate the house - there may have been some mimimal interaction with pumpkins, but I don't even remember that.  All the same Hallowe'en still managed to be a relatively big deal in the '60s and '70s - pre- and post-private fireworks.

I guess one of the reasons I went off Hallowe'en is the whole Trick and Treating thing, which came over from the States and which really annoys me, for I hate begging of any description. I don't care for crowd funding for that matter as a way of raising money for anything other than charitable causes, and consider it no more or less than a 21st century euphemism for begging. Then the practice of being mean to people who don't give you the requisite confectionery swag, or who insult you with a bag of carrots, notwithstanding their nutritional value, is anathema to me. Consequently last night I lurked upstairs and did not respond to the serial knocks on my door. I didn't stoop to turning the lights off downstairs, mind, because I simply refuse to be cowed by this tradition to the point of plunging the cat into darkness.

The other reason I went off Hallowe'en is frankly the goriness of people's costumes and make up. I am a squeamish soul and had to avert my eyes many times yesterday while scrolling through the Facebook posts of friends in their full ghoulish regalia. It is not that I can't appreciate the imagination and make up artistry involved, much of it highly elaborate, it is just that I am terrified of the sight of blood. ;) I don't go to Cake Club anymore, and I certainly wouldn't have relished last night's offerings, which included severed finger biscuits. Boy, were they realistic!

Source: Clare Chick

So did I do anything of a Hallowe'enish nature? Well, I did buy a squash for 39p in Aldi, mainly because it was colourful and nicely fills up the fruit bowl in the absence of fruit. I nearly bought a second one to finish the job, but balked at another 39p on an item I would probably not attempt to peel and cook, if indeed you can. For all I know, they may be entirely decorative.

Oh, and I will keep my eyes peeled when I go to the shops next in case they are selling off those little nets of chocolate pumpkin balls and the like. But I shall draw the line at eyeballs or spiders, however deeply discounted.

As for wearing a spooky or witchy Hallowe'en perfume yesterday, not a chance. I am currently trying to use up a few unknown vials which have been lying around for ages, having long since separated themselves from their Les Senteurs card or whatever they may have been attached to in the distant past. So I drained one of oriental of some kind at a guess, but not remotely susceptible to spooking the wearer, I am happy to say.

So there you have it. What a incorrigibly curmudgeonly soul I am in the Hallowe'en department, not entering into the fun at all. I didn't even wear my purple Lipstick Queen Goodbye lipstick that Undina gave me, which might at least have been a small concession to ghostly pallor. much did I enjoy looking at this garden, in a street above my house? What a lot of effort they went to, and what a veritable cornucopia of ghoulish artefacts! The pebbledash pachyderm is particularly unsettling. But seriously, if I was a kid now, I would have loved all that, just as I loved riding the Ghost Train at funfairs. It is perhaps a shame that I have lost my sense of childish wonder somewhere along the way, and become the humbug of today...

And now, on to the dishcloth draw! I excluded the overt DNEMs and put everyone else in. If I misread Lady Jane Grey's wishes a refusal will not offend, and I will do the draw again. As I foretold, the odds were excellent, as only four people were entered, haha.

So, having used the good offices of I can reveal that the winner of the 9th Blog Anniversary prize draw is:



Let me know your address again on flittersniffer at gmail dot com, even though I feel I should have it somewhere already, and I will post your prize off without delay.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Plush peony: Aroma M Geisha Botan review, plus a peony-coloured dishcloth giveaway (don't laugh!) as Bonkers turns 9

I don't know where the time goes, but I have just checked when I started Bonkers about Perfume, and it is 25th October, 2009. Some years I celebrate my blog anniversary late - up to eight months late in 2013!, then I may even have forgotten it altogether the odd time, while this year I decided to mark the occasion a day early, why not?  I do wonder if it is a bit cheeky to have an anniversary at all when my posting has become sparse of late, but I guess I am still just about going at least, on my tod, after a fashion. Or rather not after a fashion, as being on trend or 'in the swim', or even vaguely Zeitgeisty is not really my way.  I can't even bring myself to do Instagram and engage with those pesky thickets of hashtags, but that is a matter for a whole other post some time.

Behold, a cake that says those look a wee bit  like peonies to you? Just getting in the mood...

Source: Pinterest

And before broaching Maria McElroy's latest perfume release I will mention the rather mundane giveaway I am linking to it - and my anniversary. To be fair, my giveaways have been getting progressively more mundane, eclectic, and some would say downright bizarre with each passing year, spurred on by my pathological fear of posting perfume, the obvious prize. But I have no qualms about mailing this pink and therefore broadly peony-coloured dishcloth anywhere in the world to the (un-)fortunate winner. Knitted by own own age spot mottled hand, no less!

Me, I still clean my entire house with roll after roll of kitchen towel, but I have a small but growing number of environmentally-conscious friends, who are embracing recyclable things in a big way, even to the point of crocheting substitutes for cotton wool pads to remove eye make up. So by that yardstick, a washable dishcloth isn't so far-fetched really. Made from cotton, with a ruggedised pattern of double moss stitch that lends the cloth its abrasive qualities. Well, up to a point. So if you would like to be in with a chance to win it - and a DNEM will not offend, haha - please indicate as much in the comments. And I am aware it is not quite a proper square(!), but what else would you expect on Bonkers?

Truffle is thankfully asleep as I type, for she really got her claws into the bag containing HOCB Immortal Beloved last year.

And on to Geisha Botan at last, two samples of which arrived from Maria of Aroma M this week. Now I did have a number of perfume-themed (no, really!) posts in the pipeline, so the fact that this review (after a fashion) has catapulted the scent to the top of the queue - or to the mouth of the pipeline, should that be? - speaks volumes. This is suddenly the perfume I want to write about most of all, as you may rightly infer.

Before I tried Botan, I had a quick glance over the PR blurb that was sent with it. The first thing to mention is that Botan is another Japanese-inspired scent - as its inclusion in the Geisha range would suggest indeed - moreover the word Botan actually means 'peony'. I have to say I would never have made the connection, for Botan is quite a heavy word, and peonies blowsy but lighter somehow, even when they droop, of which more anon. My mind also keeps drifting towards 'butane', from which obviously I quickly yank it back. To top things off I have a type of monkey image running through my brain, but I may in fact merely be conflating Borneo and Orang-utan.

So it is doubtless best to move on from such unhelpful free associations and return to our peony muttons. The potted version of the story behind Botan is as follows: newly arrived in Tokyo in the 1980s, Maria visited Ueno Park, noted for its 17th century Toshogu Shrine. Here she chanced upon a peony garden and was struck "not only by this flower's profusion of bedazzling jagged-edged pink blossoms, but by its gentle rose-like scent." Maria considers peonies "quintessential Asian flowers" and harboured a long term wish to create the quintessential peony perfume herself one day. And now here it is.

Ueno Park ~ Source:

On a side note, I used to have two enormous peony bushes in the back garden of the house I shared with Mr Bonkers. The blossoms were incredibly profuse and a very pale pink, and every year I would 'kettle' them in a kind of metal pen to stop the heavy heads drooping till they eventually caused the whole plant to fall over. The bushes bloomed every year all the time I lived there, but I suspect Mr Bonkers - not someone overly endowed with green fingers - may since have managed to kill them, if the fate of my beloved Pieris is anything to go by.

Notes: peony, rose, sandalwood, vanilla, "velvet woods".

Now, returning to peony-inspired perfumes, in the spirit of full disclosure I didn't think I was a big fan of these. There are a few I have tried, and they can be a bit watery and insipid, or occasionally even tart. Moreover, I associate them firmly with spring, so was faintly puzzled to be receiving samples of a peony perfume in October. Though the timing of the package may have been fortuitous. Anyway, I need not have worried...oh no...

This was a peony perfume with welly. The plushest of peony perfumes ever made. It is thick and powdery and velvety and musky with just the right amount of sweetness. The peony and rose notes are beautifully blended with the lighter peony keeping the rose from being overly dark and Gothic, a la Czech & Speake's Dark Rose (there's a clue in the name!). If I remember rightly, it was also a touch agar woody and used to catch in my throat.

Now I do love gourmand orientals (being the happy owner of both Parfumerie Generale's Brulure de Rose and Tauer PHI Une Rose de Kandahar), and when Maria described this to me as a 'floral gourmand', that seemed spot on. If anyone remembers Sonoma Scent Studio's Velvet Rose, I am reminded of its rich, velvety texture, if not its scent particularly. And there are one or two other fragrances with this kind of vibe that I can't summon up for the moment. But think the olfactory equivalent of sensuous velvet damask cushions and you won't go far wrong. Funnily enough, I was thinking of getting this very one for a friend as a present. Interestingly, I imagine there is a phantom hint of plum in Botan for some reason, which I swear I detected before lighting upon this plum - and pleasingly plump - cushion!

Source: Ian Snow

I can see me wearing these samples of Botan all through the winter, day or night. Botan is a light heavy oriental, if you know what I mean. A soprano as it were. But it has heft and swagged folds too. While managing to completely avoid being the sort of powdery diva scent you would associate with a stout opera singer. I love the idea of an peony oriental scent - it really does seem to subvert the usual conventions. I am very drawn to Maria's other amber-forward creations, both for Aroma M and House of Cherry Bomb, and now I am delighted to have discovered a whole other fragrance style of hers that moves me to the same extent.

Oh, I say, I have just googled an image of the bottle - my very first sighting of it - and look what colour it is!

Source: Luckyscent

PS The draw is open until the end of October ie midnight on Hallowe'en!

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Come rain, shine, or anything in between: Miller Harris La Pluie review

I am afraid it has been another funny week or two: I am still beset with delays and problems on my renovations, due mainly to an unhappy mixture of incommunicado and astronomically priced tradesmen. On top of that I had a ten day-long cold with a side of exhaustion and headaches, topped off with an odd house guest and a doomed insurance claim, the very thought of which makes my blood run - not cold exactly, as it is unseasonably warm outside - but cooler than whatever temperature blood tends to be as a rule.

Perfume-wise it has been a strange old time as well. Initially I was so distracted that I forgot to put any on, but then something happened: I unthinkingly sprayed on Miller Harris La Pluie one morning, as a sample vial just came to hand in a sponge bag, and found myself reaching for it day after day, as though on autopilot. I don't believe I have ever worn a single perfume on so many consecutive occasions - it is most unlike what my conscious self would do, or even approve of. But La Pluie has been hitting the spot, so I have stuck with it.

Ironically, though I have had this sample for ages, I have consistently passed over it up till now. La Pluie hadn't really registered or imposed itself on my nostrils or memory. I remember it as inoffensive and nondescript, and it certainly is the former, however I now think that it does have quite a bit going on in a quiet, companionable way. And that is just the kind of perfume I am drawn to at the moment, something gentle, soothing and supportive, like the way Truffle was during the worst of my cold, snuggled under the covers with her head lying facing me on my outstretched arm, and her paws resting empathetically on my neck. Truly a laying on of paws, if such a thing exists, and most therapeutic at the time. It was only when I started to get up and display signs of normal behaviour that Truffle decided she could dispense with her 'under covers' vigil and go outside. So La Pluie is, if you will, the scented equivalent of a consoling cat. In short it is ideal for when it rains, when it pours(!), when it drizzles, and for bizarre episodes of Indian summer weather as we have today.

Notes: tangerine, lavender, 'wet' white flowers, ylang-ylang, vetiver, bourbon vanilla

So how does La Pluie smell? Well, in the opening I do just about get a fresh and dewy bouquet of those white flowers (don't ask me what, obviously). I am a little reminded of Annick Goutal's Un Matin d'Orage, which has a similar damp floral effect. But there is a weightiness to the composition of La Pluie even at this early stage, and a powdery note almost immediately creeps in, never to leave. As the scent develops, the powder at times seems 'granular', and I don't think I am hallucinating (thought given my recent illness, the possibility cannot be excluded) and the scent takes on a wet pavement kind of facet.

Also, the lavender is always in the background, but not in an overt, identifiable way so much as a kind of herbal counterpoint to the floral / orangey aspects. I don't generally like lavender as a note in perfume, which is testament to how subtle and well blended it is here. There's a soupcon of spice too, rather like Tom Ford Private Blend Shanghai Lily, but a million times more muted (and I love Shanghai Lily). Pepper? Clove? Carnation? No idea. And then over time La Pluie gradually fades away to an almost indescribable powdery, yet faintly tangy murmur. (That'll doubtless be some combo of the tangerine and ylang-ylang, a note of which I am inordinately fond.) There isn't any dankness to this rain-themed scent - and over its whole trajectory there is far more powder than moisture to be fair - and no hint of earthiness or petrichor. The powderiness could perhaps be likened to the faintest of light drizzles falling tinglingly on your skin, and there is that brief and possibly chimerical pavement interlude, as I say.

But rain is really not what I would have thought of on my repeated wearings of La Pluie, had it not been suggested by the perfume's name. Hence why my chosen photos show La Pluie in various sunlit spots round the house. ;) I am not sure I even agree with the description of the perfume on the sample box as: "A story of tropical showers and the balmy climate of a faraway island". Except perhaps by way of fleeting glimpses, but these are always wreathed in powder. Un Matin d'Orage comes much closer to that 'unalloyed damp flowers' visualisation.

So there you have no means a showstopper, and not necessarily even that memorable, though after my marathon wearing of La Pluie I for one will definitely remember it. But exactly the undemanding, comforting hum that you look for from a scent when it seems that all around you are losing their heads, and you reckon yours can't be far behind.

Now onto a regime of 'on the bed' care

Saturday, 29 September 2018

TePe or not TePe: my interdental 'journey', and a flossing epiphany

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Becker1999)
Sorry for the long gap between posts: this was partly due to another fitful procession of tradesmen, compounded by a stinking cold, which I still have, but with any luck you won't catch it from my keyboard. My sense of smell is a distant memory, so I really don't feel like writing about perfume at the moment. I have even been off alcohol, would you believe, which goes to show how rough I have been, though last night I 'made myself' have a gin and tonic, as I still managed to get a massive amount done this week, and wanted to mark that achievement alcoholically, as I do. The lime was doubtless good for my throat anyway. ;)

So instead of a perfume-themed post (again!!...I know, I know...I promise they'll be back), I would like to share my recent - and quite profound and far-reaching (literally, haha) - flossing epiphany.  I will use a more or less chronological format for the flossing methods I have used over the years, setting out the pros and cons of each. For it is certainly the case that interdental implements have evolved no end since the early days of wooden toothpicks.

But they are a good place to start, come to think of it. ;)

Wooden toothpicks

I remember these going right back to my childhood, usually kept in a little glass jar in the centre of a dining room or restaurant table, along with the condiments. If you were among friends or family, it was acceptable to have a good old rootle around your gums after your meal, even in company. The downside of these 'old school' toothpicks - which for any knitters amongst you very much resembled extremely short double-pointed needles - is that they were invariably too fat to get into any but the widest of interstices. That said, they are good at fetching out biggish pieces of meat or vegetable matter that are wedged half in, half out of a tooth, say. (Sorry if that is too much information.)

Source: Amazon

Classic floss thread

I didn't really get into flossing proper till my 30s, when I dated a guy who was evangelical about flossing twice a day and took absolutely forever over it. Even at that age he had had problems with receding gums, and we went to LA together in 1994 for him to have cutting-edge dental surgery - cutting being the operative word! - which involved his gums being cut and flipped back and somehow coaxed into re-affixing themselves lower down the teeth afterwards. And no, I really don't know how that was done, but it was the sort of semi-cosmetic dentistry for which Hollywood is renowned. And then he engaged in a spot of primal screaming therapy while he was there. I can understand how the mere fact of having your gums rearranged may have driven him to such a thing, though he did have other unresolved personal issues not related to teeth. Anyway, his flossing weapon of choice in those days, which I do still occasionally resort to today, was a reel of coated thread that you cut to the required length.

The pros of thread are that it is cheap and quite effective. However, it can hurt your gums by cutting into them (here we go again with our cutting imagery!), plus it is only deployable where you have double-sided access. There is no chance of using it in some tiny crevices on a back molar that can only be approached from the front. Plus it makes me salivate an unseemly amount, so is messy!

Floss picks

These are a supposedly convenient format, where a piece of floss thread is strung tightly between two prongs of a plastic pick. They remind me of a small hacksaw crossed with a bow and arrow and are neither use nor ornament - or not in my mouth. The locations where you can insert the floss part and not find the plastic frame bangs into your teeth at the same time are few and far between.

Source: dentagama

TePe brushes (in assorted sizes)

I don't know when I gravitated to these - it was probably at my dentist's suggestion - but they were my go-to flossing tool of choice for a long time, even though they were also deeply flawed. A pack of about 5 or 6 costs around £3 (if you get the actual brand, TePe), and they were almost always sold out of my size - .45mm ie the orange ones. Buy a size up or down and they would be so big you'd be ramming them pointlessly in between your smaller teeth, while the overly small ones rattle about from side to side and don't get that optimum traction for poking stuff out. (I have a friend who owns TePes in about four or five different colours, each dedicated to about three teeth each, but such a systematic approach is much too fiddly for me, even if they do look quite pretty lined up on the edge of the sink.)

Blue TePe - 0.6mm (too big for most of my teeth!)

To the lack of availability issue in my preferred size add the fact that TePes - the branded ones, but also to varying degress every single own label and budget knock off on the market (and believe me, I've tried them all) - are flagrant examples of built-in product obsolescence. Even if you have bought the correct size for the majority of your teeth, the TePes or their equivalent invariably crumple on impact after a few teeth and are as good as useless from that point on. As well as crumpling and bending into unusable shapes, I have had some cheapo ones that actually shed all their toilet brush-style fibres in between my teeth, making them feel like there was more stuff trapped in them than I started with, because there was! This left the TePe wannabe as bare steel, which was like flossing with a straight bit of barbed wire. That way lies bleeding gums, trust me on this.

Bendy white plastic toothpicks

Not so long ago I was staying with my brother and sister-in-law and they introduced me to a different kind of toothpick - a flat, tapered plastic white spear, that was completely flexible and seemed to fit most of my teeth except the ones with really tiny gaps. So technology has clearly come on a lot since the days of the wooden ones and I was really impressed with these, which are washable and reusable to boot. They are quite hard to find, plus I cannot even remember their name, but meanwhile, I have recently made an even greater discovery...drum roll...

TePe EasyPick

I found these quite by chance when failing (yet again!) to located the .45mm variety of the classic TePe style. They are a slight enhancement of the bendy white plastic toothpicks, because they are very fine at the tip, but graduated in width so by the time you get to the hilt, they are suitable for the gappiest of gaps (in my mouth at any rate, and excluding the gap where I had a tooth out and didn't put anything in its place, haha, which would take some bridging!). They are also incredibly flexible and bendy, to the point of going 'boing' when you flick them. Okay, maybe not quite. But they fit absolutely every tooth, you get tons of them in a pack, they are reusable quite a few times before you may accidentally deform the delicate fine tip. And of course your mileage may vary. I mentioned them to the friend with all the colours of TePes - and teeth of different sizes - and he said they didn't work for him. So probably if you have tighter teeth in the main they will be a perfect solution, less so if you have a more gappy arrangement.

That said, they do come in two sizes: M/L (in blue) and S/XS in orange - there is more info in this link, and no, I am not on commission or in any way associated with the company. ;) If one of the variants of TePe EasyPick is suitable for your gnashers, the savings are potentially huge! I for one am smitten. And my interdental detritus is history.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Hive mind help needed to solve a pigmented pillow puzzle!

Sorry that the blog is still not very perfume-orientated at the moment, despite my having all manner of more or less on-message posts up my sleeve! Am still in the throes of the bathroom-cum-utility renovation, even if this week has been relatively quieter than last. Though today I had new windows fitted! Unfortunately one of the panes had cracked in transit, so the fitters will have to come back to complete the job with the new pane they have now ordered. And on Thursday, following a visit by the electrician, I went to order a light fitting he had confirmed was appropriate for the room, but had my purchase cancelled and money refunded by the supplier, as soon as they realised the item had in fact been discontinued. So I tried another company, only to have the exact same thing happen again!, and another refund land in my account. Then I looked on Amazon, whose listing for the same light included the tantalising words: '3 new available'. I had long since given up trusting information on retailer websites though, so I rang the Amazon supplier and asked him if he did indeed have three of these lights in stock, or whether it was merely another chimera. I may not have said 'chimera' as such, but I did go on to explain that if these items really were in his possession, might I buy one? To which he replied that they probably weren't, but that a lorry was just hoving into view in his yard, allegedly with 19 units of the very light on board, arguably the last remaining examples of that model in the whole of the land. We agreed that he would go out immediately and inspect the delivery, and if the lights were indeed there - and his order not also cancelled! - he would confirm my own purchase via Amazon. Am pleased to say that he did just that, so it appears to have been a case of third time lucky.

Let there be light! This light!

And none of the above is remotely relevant to the subject of this post, but does at least illustrate how time-consuming and distracting even small setbacks can be on a programme of works like this. It will all get done eventually, I keep telling myself, though it seems people's availability keeps unravelling into the distant future every time you blink...

So - changing tack completely - this is a quick post to inquire if anyone knows why I sometimes wake up to yellowy-veering-to-orange stains on my pillow and the top few inches of my duvet cover, which might also come into contact with my face and neck.

One of my theories is leaching hair dye, though if that were so it would happen every night, plus I haven't had even a few highlights put in for many months. Which leaves the possibility that certain night creams may be oozing pigment as I sleep - I do chop and change my night time routine you see, and a few of these products may be longer in the tooth than is advised / I even remember(!). Or there is the final possibility, which I would really rather not contemplate, namely that I am quietly oozing 'agent orange' myself. Where exactly in my body such effluvium would ultimately emanate from doesn't bear thinking about.

The incident pictured - I know it is quite faint in the photo, but trust me, you would notice the discolouration in the flesh, or in the medium thread count cotton, rather - happened after a night of using a Lacura cream from Aldi. I had visions of its oil base separating out in the wee small hours and seeping onto the pillow from my entire face. I promptly threw it away in the morning, not least because I had had while. But you can't actually see any yellow or orange pigment in any of these products I put on my face at night, that's the puzzling thing. And texturally they certainly don't look like they are separating - far from it. I can only conclude that it may be an entirely nocturnal phenomenon, like sea turtles laying eggs, raccoons rifling through bins, or Truffle hunter gathering her latest mouse present for me to find on the carpet first thing.

Hmm, I am not having much luck getting these stains out of my cotton bedding either, possibly because I usually use non-bio powder, which is arguably quite the wrong kind to tackle coloured grease marks, if that is what they are.

Suggestions gratefully received - am hoping someone will have a light bulb moment! And that any solutions will ideally not involve an elaborate homemade concoction of baking powder, toothpaste, white vinegar, salt, eye of newt and Tippex.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Plumb crazy and round the U-bend again!

I am sorry my posts have become a bit sparse of late...I have got a lot going on at the moment, including some quite disruptive house renovations - structural work to tackle rising damp by the back door, and the gutting of the utility room, which was full of condemned sanitary fixtures. It is a funny space: half utility, half bathroom, and will retain its ambiguous dual status when the project is complete. That probably won't be till November now, but there are still lots of jobs to do meanwhile: rewiring, new gas pipework, new windows, and the capping of a chimney that was letting in rain and contributing to the damp problem.

Then to make matters worse, my boiler snuffed it yesterday within half an hour of being serviced. The gas fitter said it was the shock of such a vigorous intervention, not unlike a 90 year old dying on the operating table. But late yesterday evening it gradually sparked back into life - very fitfully at first, but now it seems to have remembered what it used to do before its heat exchanger was so startlingly de-furred. To stay with our operative analogy, it turns out that the boiler may simply have needed longer in the recovery room. It is knocking (and juddering) on 17 years old, mind, which in combi boiler years is probably like 135 for a human, so I do see a new boiler in my near future. I was absolutely frozen yesterday afternoon and evening, but consoled myself with the fact that while the house may have been cold, it was at least no longer damp!

Yesterday was typical of how the week has been. I did not stop chopping Hydra heads between 7am, when I couldn't find my car keys, and 2.30am, which I finally stopped puzzling over my notes on mirror screws and access panels . I'd say I've been 'firefighting', only that would have sounded pleasantly warm, and for most of the day I was anything but. Yes, there is a lot coming at me at the moment, with crazy levels of multi-tasking and snap decisions: 'Are you having trickle vents?' 'What degree of frosting on your glass?' 'Do you want an extractor fan?' 'What about a self-demisting mirror?'(No!). 'Where is the gas bonded?' 'Where is the manual to that?' 'Laminate or solid?' 'Pipework at a high or low setting?' 'Flexible black conduit at 90 degrees or the existing metal rod?' 'Over the porch or under the step?' 'What model name?' 'This guarantee or that guarantee with this catch or that caveat?' 'Is this rubbish even allowed in my bin?' 'Where do you want the sink putting in the garden?' 'That knackered cupboard with the louvred doors - chuck or keep?' 'How do you take your coffee?' 'What is the projection of the tumble dryer door when open?' 'Metal edging strip or butchered architrave?' 'If your cooker has the wrong kind of flame, you do realise I will have to condemn it on the spot...?' I could go on, but that is quite enough, so instead I'll reheat my tea for the nth time before the roofer comes.

It's strange...I was in Dungeness at the weekend, which is a very rum place with its nuclear power station flanked by two lighthouses. It is where 'end of the world' meets 'other worldly'...stones have holes, houses are train carriages, and sea cabbage grows between the sleepers in Derek Jarman's garden. But for a surreal landscape you really don't need to go further than the Stoke City-liveried, crunchy crystalline wall of my utility...

The late Derek Jarman's house

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Kitchen sink cologne and over-egged coleslaw - and how, as with slaw, less is more

When I was very young, I asked my brother (who is six years my senior) why there was no white crayon in the crayon tin. Being older, he was at that stage in physics where you learn about light, so extrapolating from the process whereby white light is created, he assured me that if I used ALL my crayons on top of each other, I would get a white colour. He was only teasing, as was his wont, but I followed his instructions to the letter and was crestfallen to end up instead with a decidedly muddy and unappealing shade of brown. Which taught me the valuable life lesson that using everything in your armoury at once - 'everything but the kitchen sink'-style - isn't always a good idea. It is still apparently true of light, mind...well, if you mix the primary colours of red, blue and green at least.

Fast forward to the mid-1980s. Of my 700+ friends on Facebook, there is only one, a Simon Staddon, who probably won't be reading this - unless I tag him, haha - who worked for the same company as me back then and can vouch for the fact that I was once a coleslaw mogul. No, really. In the marketing sense I mean - it wasn't all mine as such. God forbid, with a three week shelf life or whatever it is. But yes, for a year or two I presided over an empire of £11m worth of the creamy cabbage condiment, give or take a few tubs of potato salad and beetroot in jelly round the margins. And even more briefly, some whelks, cockles and rollmop herrings. Because for a short spell the empire almost doubled, when the powers-that-be bought out one of our main coleslaw competitors (with a side of shellfish) in a hostile takeover. They were dragged kicking and screaming into our corporate fold, and were so fiercely opposed to the merger that the factory staff took the law into their own hands and began to sabotage the production lines down which our products now flowed. You have heard the expression 'p***ing in a pot'? Well, that is exactly what happened. Police were called, and later swarms of management consultants descended on the factory in full-on crisis mode. I could see the writing on the wall for my year-in-the-planning summer launch of a new range, so I jumped ship and applied for a job in Staffordshire. The rest is history, but my friends up here are amused to this day when I say we wouldn't know each other were it not for someone in Essex p***ing on coleslaw.

Contrary to what you might think, that incident hasn't put me off coleslaw as such, even though the fact I had to eat 36 different competitor products first thing every Friday morning so easily could have done, even with the interspersal of Jacob's cream crackers to clear the palate. I still buy the stuff from time to time and can always tell in the first mouthful whether they have used 'aged cabbage', that has been overwintered in a huge hanger in Ely. Then the other day I spied a variety in Lidl that was completely off my radar, and which showed what light years - would they be coloured?/white? - the market had come in 30+ years:

Coconut, butternut squash and broccoli coleslaw

"Finely shredded cabbage, coconut and butternut squash, in a rich creme fraiche and free range egg mayonnaise dressing with dried cranberries."

Are you thinking what I am thinking? This is none other than a blatant case of 'superfood bingo', in which the manufacturers devise an upmarket concoction featuring all the buzzword ingredients they can possibly think of that might appeal to the health-conscious gastrosnobs of Middle England. I am actually quite surprised there are no chia seeds in there. To be fair, I didn't even spot the cranberries, so it would probably have been a waste. For my overriding impression was of a creamy, sickly, very coconut-forward goo, in which the cabbage was evidently too finely shredded to put up much of a fight in terms of bite. Because a tangy bite is the sine qua non of traditional coleslaw, which in this case had been sacrificed on the altar of rich and bland 'creme fraiche and free range egg mayonnaise dressing'. I would rather it had erred on the side of sharp and vinegary, as some of the low-cal coleslaw versions can be, than this inoffensively offensive coconut slime.

Something has gone radically wrong when marketers think that bunging a load of 'in vogue' ingredients into its recipes is going to sell a product. Though I cannot deny that it worked a treat with me!! Fizzy water with a hint of blueberry and pomegranate? I'm there! It may have worked once though, but never again. This was nothing like coleslaw as I know it. It didn't even resemble other offerings on the market that veer towards the creamier, more luxuriant mayonnaise end of the spectrum. This was merely a hot creamy mess. In a chilled food kind of a way, obviously.

Which major disappointment - it is rare for me to throw away food, but in the bin this had to go - got me thinking about whether there are any perfumes I have encountered of this 'kitchen sink variety', with lots of the good stuff thrown in, just too many ingredients altogether to work in harmony, leading to the olfactory equivalent of our white crayon fiasco.

I have given the matter some thought, but my recall is fuzzy, and I would be glad to call upon readers for some suggestions in this vein. Off the bat I would say that Amouage Ubar may be a possible contender:

Top notes: tangerine, orange, litsea cubeba, violet leaf
Heart notes: jasmine, orange blossom, ylang ylang, tuberose, freesia, lily of the valley, rosewood
Base notes; sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, copahu balm, vanilla, animal amber

And also Parfums de Nicolai Sacrebleu, though it has even fewer notes, and Ubar turns out not to have anywhere near as many as I was expecting:

Top notes: mandarin orange, red berries
Heart notes: carnation, tuberose, cinnamon, jasmine
Base notes: frankincense, vanilla, peru balm, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli

I am not happy with those examples - they do smell over the top to my nose, but only Ubar arguably has too many different things going on in it. I tried googling 'perfumes with lots of notes' but there is absolutely nothing out there on the topic! Or not in the first couple of pages of Google, certainly. So please help me out if you can think of perfumes with such a surfeit of notes as to create a nose-thwacking scent overload.


I know, I will look up a few of the older, historical recreations from Grossmith...yes, the effect is broadly what I am after, even though the note lists aren't unduly long again. You know, Shem-el-Nessim and Phul-Nana - that style of heavy, powdery scent from a bygone era.

Hmm, if I can't google perfumes with loads of notes - or remember any! - I am a bit stumped really. Though you see at least where I am trying to go with this. I think the more vintage scents may lean this way, perhaps the odd Guerlain, even. I feel sure there is a culprit in the Penhaligon stable, but don't ask me which. Or another Amouage that would knock your block off with the length of its note lists if not an overpowering composition as such. Or conceivably both.

Finally, my parting advice to manufacturers of coleslaw would be: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' and - most importantly - 'Don't skimp on the carrot!'

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Batch point: the surprising guises of Creed Virgin Island Water

I meant to publish this post to coincide with Wimbledon. So that went well then, I hear you say. But there again regular readers of Bonkers will know that I am no stranger to chronological inexactitude, being also prone to celebrating my blog anniversary days or even weeks off its actual date. I am probably not too far out this year to do it now in fact, but have other things to cover for the moment.

Down the years I have done quite a bit of informal perfume 'consultancy' for friends, some of which I have documented on the blog. I use the term 'consultancy' most advisedly, for we are talking a session of 'guided sampling' here, not anything akin to the work of McKinsey or KPMG. Especially as I wouldn't dream of charging my friends £1500 a day for the privilege of my olfactory insights, such as they are.

One of these friends is Simon, the chap who lives on a boat, and on my instructions dutifully keeps his perfumes in a fridge - despite living on a boat, where space is at a premium! - and to whom I introduced two of what proved to be big hits with him: BEX Londoner SE1, inspired by the spice wharves of that post code (review here), and Fragrance Republic's FR! 01/03, a scent built around the elements of a Cuban mojito. It is no longer in production, indeed I think the whole company went bump, possibly dogged by the twin shackles of excessive serial numbers and exclamation marks, but this is mere speculation on my part.

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Vodopivez)

Top notes: mint, lemon
Heart notes: rum pure jungle essence (excuse me??)
Base notes: Gurjum balsam

So having drained his bottle of FR1! 01/03 - of which there is none to be had through the usual channels of eBay and Facebook groups - I got together a little bag of samples for him to try in a bid to find my friend another zesty and spirit-themed scent.

And perhaps unsurprisingly - though I thought Penhaligon's Juniper Sling might have been a contender - Simon was drawn to Creed Virgin Island Water, of which I had a little splash pot from many years ago, procured in a swap on MUA (two mentions in as many posts!), but which to my nose was still in pretty good nick.

So Simon drained that with alacrity and I set about procuring some more for him via the UK Sales/Swap/Split site on Facebook. I soon found a 10ml decant, which he applied liberally and again quickly drained. I thought I would seek out a bigger quantity next time, and found a chap on the same site hosting a split that involved a humongous bottle - a veritable Jeroboam of the scent world - divided nine or ten ways, I can't quite remember the exact proportions, but it certainly made 50ml a very affordable £50 or thereabouts, compared with a much higher price were you to buy a 50ml bottle in store. At least three times that much, if not more.

Source: Fragrantica

So the 50ml decant bottle arrived, and Simon carried on spraying with abandon - if anything, with even more abandon that usual, as he had so much perfume to play with. However, he quickly noticed that this lot of Virgin Island Water did not smell like the smaller 10ml decant OR the original tiny splash pot. It was less coconutty to his nose and had a monster fruity opening, which we concluded must be lime. That said, the drydowns were nigh on identical, so it was a fairly fleeting, if startling difference.

So on the Interwebs I jumped in a bid to solve this puzzle, and it was the work of a few minutes to stumble upon a forum thread on Basenotes where mostly male fumeheads from all over the world were discussing different variants of Virgin Island Water, or VIW as it is typically abbreviated, in which not only the coconut vs the lime-forward versions are discussed, but people are lamenting changes in the colour of the cap, or even the juice,

"Does anyone with a 16a01 batch experience the big lime? Should I return this? I read from other threads that they got a perfect balance on this batch.... But I get straight up lime?? What should I do?? (sorry if I sound like I'm going nuts but this smells like lime juice on the opening)"

"For those looking for a nice coconut note who either can't find the right VIW batch and don't have the patience to fool around with batches in the first place, I'll suggest Diptyque Philosykos."

"I ended up paying full retail (15% off actually for Christmas) at the Creed Boutique for their last 2 super-large 17 oz. flacons of VIW from the year 2013. The juice is clear white, and the coconut is dominant. I could have saved hundreds online; however, I love the coconut in VIW and can't stand the lime-intensive versions....I would be thrilled if Creed introduced a new fragrance called Creed Coconut."

Source: Wikimedia Commons (unknown author)

What also struck me was the matter-of-fact way in which members were bandying around batch numbers to back up their observations. In my ten years down the rabbit hole, I have never once looked for, never mind referenced, a batch number of a perfume in current production, though I may have peered at the bottoms of flacons of vintage scents for any kind of numerical steers. But the very idea of going into Boots, picking up a bottle of Coco Mademoiselle (not that I would, given Lidl's perfectly adequate dupe for a sixteenth of the money), and checking it had the batch number I was after is a completely alien concept.

But I had learnt loud and clear that with Creed perfumes, or with VIW specifically at least, batch numbers are very much a thing. I did wonder if the coconut-forward variant is simply an older formulation whereas the lime-intensive one is the latest incarnation, but from all my reading it seems that there is more to it than that. But if anyone has the definitive line on this I would be interested to know!

So given that Simon was not as smitten with this 'lime whoosh' version, I wondered if I could track down a different one for him. Maybe even send this decant back. But if there were different, equally bona fide versions of this scent, that might not be an option. At  least, I thought to myself, I could prove that the lime whoosh variant he has is kosher. That seemed a good starting point. So he gave me back his decant for now, and I studied the homemade label the seller had put on it with forensic interest. Sure enough, there was a long batch number in small type in the bottom corner of the label. Hurrah! I had something to follow up...

I jumped right back on the Net and did a trawl of sampling sites, seeing if any of the ones selling VIW actually stated the batch their sample was from. I struck lucky with a company whose name escapes me in Bangor, Co Down, a seaside resort where I spent much of my childhood summer holidays wasting my pennies on slot machines on the prom (though I resisted the urge to add that as a note with my order). The sample cost £5, plus £2.50 or so postage, but I figured that was well worth paying to prove that what Simon had was 'proper', even if it was not to his taste as much as the coconutty variant. And when the sample came, supposedly from the very same batch as our decant, it was absolutely clear that they were identical, so assuming this was a kosher sampling site, which I did assume, I could tell Simon that he had good - if rather limey - gear.

Barry's Amusements ~ Source:

Having established that we had no come back from the Facebook seller because he was simply hosting a split of VIW, not a batch-specific one, Simon got on with using the one he had in the spirit of that Stephen Stills song: 'Love the one you are with'. And now he has finished that too, all 50ml of it!

Another big split came up on the same site recently - involving another gigantic bottle but a different seller - however that fell through unfortunately, when the online retailer suddenly realised it was out of stock. We all got our £50 back and I am currently on the waiting list (on my friend's behalf) for another bottle to appear. It sounds a bit like waiting for a kidney to become available, and certainly Simon is very attached to this scent, even if it is not entirely essential to life. So much so, that he is now completely comfortable in the knowledge that finding a cheap source of Virgin Island Water is already good going: the coconut or lime inflection may have to remain in the lap of the gods.

Have you ever come across this phenomenon of batch variations? Is it a Creed thing or more general?

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Swoon Bloom: Anya's Garden Strange Magic perfume review

Earlier this month, during the very hottest weather of all the hot weather we have had lately, I drained my sample of Strange Invisible Perfumes L'Invisible, a juicy marvel which for no good reason had been languishing in one of my sample bags for years. I recall popping into the Strange Invisible Perfumes store in Venice, LA, on a work trip in 2010, but having checked the relevant blog post I note that I didn't get round to trying L'Invisible on that occasion, and have no idea how or why I acquired this sample.

Notes: Sicilian lemon, bergamot, mandarin, ylang-ylang, hibiscus, Moroccan red rose, jasmine, vanilla, amber, oakmoss

Ooh, am I sorry to have finished the vial. L'Invisible is a really cheerful, tangy scent with a luscious citrus and ylang-ylang opening, seguing into a cosseting drydown of amber and vanilla, that is perfect as the temperature drops on a summer evening - I don't pick up much moss. Invisible it is not. So L'Invisible had 'strange' in the brand name and was orange in colour, a combination to which I was now very favourably disposed. Such that when natural perfumer Anya McCoy kindly offered to send me a sample of her latest creation, Strange Magic perfume, "made of 95% handmade tinctures of flowers from my Miami garden", I jumped at the chance. Anya went on to explain: "I believe it's the first perfume to be made mainly of tinctures, with just a few essential oils and absolutes added where necessary."

Source: Anya's Garden

It wasn't so much the fact that this perfume is made of tinctures per se that got me excited, but rather its enticing name (no pun intended - Anya's last release was called Entice), and the fact that the blooms of flowers used in the making of Strange Magic had changed colour in the process. I was already in the mood for an orange perfume, while this one was reportedly dark red. I also read this blog post of Anya's with interest, which documents her decades-long tincturing experience generally, and how she noticed a few years back that the flowers of Michelia alba (white champaca) went radically different colours when in contact with the 190 proof alcohol she uses to make her tinctures, beginning with pink and ending up a deep burgundy, the more flowers she added.

Oh, I do love things like that which appear to be magic! I was given some Portuguese gin at Christmas which is a violent purple in colour like meths, and is meant to turn pink when you add tonic. That unfortunately proved to be mere advertising puffery, for the gin actually goes pale mauve instead, just as you would expect. Then there was the wonder in chemistry classes at school of copper sulphate solution, whose bright blue hue - a small miracle in itself! - would go mysteriously white when heated. I find such things endlessly fascinating, and couldn't wait to try this particular instance of 'strange magic' in perfumery.

But before I come onto the fragrance itself, as I so often do on Bonkers I must pay tribute once again to the exquisite packaging in which the sample arrived. I love the bold combination of orange and purple - even if it reminds me vividly of Loyalist marches in my home town of Belfast. I have already bestowed the accolade of 'packaging highlight of 2015' on what I dubbed Anya's 'bias-beribboned box' in this New Year's round up post. That had contained her Ylang-Ylang tincture, which I remember enjoying wearing that summer, but as it was sadly stolen along with my luggage I never felt able to review it.

I took an even closer look at the box this time round and could see that it was recycled. Very commendable. There was the telltale haphazard fibre pattern you get with OSB (oriented strand board aka Sterling board), a material on which I have done multiple pan-European studies (which may come as no surprise to you). Here is the very same stuff being used to line the bar in a quirky cafe called Spout in Leek.

Source: Tripadvisor

And finally, on to the sample of Strange Magic...which is indeed dark red as billed, veering to reddish brown. It stays brown on paper but goes on clear on skin. Maybe that's because I am a bit tanned at the moment, but no, I really think it is colourless on skin - that's another aspect of its magic, then. ;)

And as you can see from the extensive (but still deliberately not comprehensive for perfumer as magician reasons!) note list below (plucked from Cafleurebon), the fragrance comprises a whole host of tinctures of different flowers.

Notes: Chinese Perfume Tree: yellow flowers (Dark amber tincture), Orris: pale white rhizome (Bright coral, orange tincture), Chamomiles: white flowers (Blue oils when distilled), Gardenias: white flowers (Dark amber tincture), Jasmines: white flowers (Deep amber tincture (some, not all), White Champaca: white flowers (Crimson red to dark red tincture),  Ylang ylang: yellow flowers (Olive green to dark green tincture),  Cashmere Bouquet: white flowers (Deep red tincture), Vintage white ambergris from Vanuatu (Orange tincture)

When I first smelt Strange Magic I was instantly reminded of my dabbling in natural perfumes at the start of my hobby - in a purely sampling sense, I mean. I was very taken with the range by Ajne of Carmel, to which I was introduced by Michelyn Camen of Cafleurebon, as it happens, and over time I acquired samples of Printemps, Desire, Bloom, Divine, Lakshmi, Om, Fleur Blanche, Vanille and Aphrodite, and even went on to own a small bottle of the frangipani and jasmine beauty that is Calypso, reviewed here. My Calypso is also orange now and very aged, but still not off I wouldn't say! The sheer intensity and Dolby Surround Smell effect of natural perfumes is hard to describe, but it is like sniffing something in HD, where the florals are incredibly present, whilst sometimes seeming to be showcased against a darker, murkier, slightly treacly base (in a good way!). If you put L'Invisible in a cave you might get a sense of what I mean, though there again probably not. I pick up on a heady bouquet in which I can detect ylang-ylang and a sensual blur of other sweet and narcotic flowers, but I would be lying if I said could make out anything else distinctly. But that truly doesn't matter: suffice to say that Strange Magic does indeed cast a spell over me, and as I say is extremely evocative of those equally heady early years of experimentation and discovery when I first fell down the rabbit hole.

Circe, by John William Waterhouse ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons

The only downside to mention is that as with magic tricks, so with Strange Magic the perfume, it is rather a case of 'Now you sniff it, now you don't' ie Strange Magic doesn't last very long on me, and mutes down to a whispery trace within a few hours. I would like to say that its ephemeral nature is part of its mystique, but we are talking a scent that, due to its handcrafted and natural provenance, is necessarily a high end item - it costs $125 for 15ml. That said, I see my Calypso from Ajne is now $195 for 15ml, so by that yardstick Strange Magic is a relative bargain, longevity aside! And if you are someone who pays most attention to how a perfume smells in the first few hours anyway, that might not be an issue. Assuming you even had the same experience as me of its being somewhat fleeting. I note that Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur got 6-8 hours wear from Strange Magic, so maybe I am the one with 'strange' skin in that regard!       

In closing I will just say that I wish the things in my garden smelt anywhere near as nice as the flowers in Anya's. Currently there is only scorched yellow grass and some tall white daisies that are keeling over and turning brown prior to giving up the ghost completely. Oh, and one unnaturally tall peach rose, so much so that I hadn't even noticed it was in bloom. But I doubt I have anything like the wherewithal to make a will gladly leave that to professional perfumers in more tropical climes.