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.

Friday, 20 July 2018

'Pure Poison': the bizarre and tragic case of the perfume bottle that wasn't

3D-Novichok ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons (ChiralJon)
When the news of the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia broke last March, it seemed like the most preposterously unlikely event ever to occur in the sedate cathedral town of Salisbury. The weapon of choice was the military-grade Novichok, a series of nerve agents first developed by Russian scientists back in the 1970s. Yes, this was the stuff of John Le Carre novels rather than a tale of everyday folk eating pizza on a Sunday afternoon in a shopping centre. As the story unfolded though, we learnt that Sergei Skripal was a former Russian spy / double agent, so (without naming names!) a possible motive for the attack was starting to emerge. Both father and daughter recovered, thankfully, after a long stay in hospital.

Fast forward to the end of June, and two more people were poisoned by Novichok, thought to be from the very same batch used against the Skripals, but at a much higher strength - at least ten times as concentrated. The victims on this occasion - Dawn Sturgess and boyfriend Charlie Rowley - were, however, random members of the public, who became exposed to the substance after Dawn picked up an abandoned perfume bottle in the Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury and took it back to Charlie's house in Amesbury.

Queen Elizabeth Gardens, Salisbury ~ Source: Geograph

Some reports say that only Dawn sprayed the contents onto her skin, while others state that both she and her partner did. Another article has Charlie merely 'picking up' the perfume bottle once his girlfriend had brought it into his home. And I say 'spray', but I have seen one newspaper account which describes the transfer method used by Dawn as 'dabbing'. All the papers agree that it was a 'small glass bottle'. None has mentioned the brand, so perhaps it was unbranded and just a recognisable perfume atomiser or dab bottle of some kind. Then unless this was an obviously unisex scent, it seems unlikely to me that Charlie would test it on himself, but the mere act of handling the bottle may have been enough to lead to serious levels of contamination.

I heard on the news tonight that Charlie Rowley was discharged from hospital this morning. Dawn Sturgess sadly died eight days after collapsing at her boyfriend's home, where the little bottle was recovered by police.

Coming hard on the heels of the Skripal case, this incident is equally if not more shocking, in that the attack was aimed at mere passersby, with no connection whatsoever to the Russian state and its apparatus. It suddenly makes you think that any found object, however innocent-looking, has the potential to be dangerous - or even fatal. And it seems horribly perverse that fragrance, the transformative power of which is invariably a force for good, should be subverted to these evil and destructive ends. As well as sadly making the names of Dior's 'Poison' range - that infamously groundbreaking collection comprising original Poison from 1985 and its flankers - sound like an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.

Would this incident make you more wary about found objects generally, and perfume specifically?

According to the Daily Mail, police have warned people in Salisbury: "If you didn't drop it, don't pick it up." So that appears to be the official line, at least locally.

But on the other hand, is there a danger we could become immobilised by fear from touching anything that doesn't belong to us? What if someone dropped their wallet...surely the public-spirited thing would be to pick it up and hand it in?  That said, the sheer audacity and inhumanity of this attack certainly gives you pause...
Source: Fragrantica

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Analgesics Mini-Tour: The Monochrome Set in Germany, May 2018

Headache not helped by sound check ~ via Mike Urban
I have already written about the serendipitous colliding of my perfume and music worlds in this post about Geza Schoen and his friend coming to a Monochrome Set gig in Berlin. In it I mentioned that at some point I would write up the travel aspects of this mini-tour, which also took in Cologne, Mainz, and Hamburg. Predictably on Bonkers, that time has come somewhat belatedly, and I may have picked up one or two other travel anecdotes from later gigs that I will append here, using a dollop of chronological licence.

And rather than adopt a chronological approach to this travelogue, I will opt for my tried and tested formula of grouping incidents and observations thematically, starting with...

Going by our middle names

At St Pancras, on the way out to Cologne, Andy the bass player had the whimsical idea that for the duration of the trip we should refer to one another by our middle names. This yielded some amusing discoveries before we even started playing the game:

Me: Jane
Singer (Bid): Tara!!
Bass player (Andy): Peter
Keyboard player (John): Paul
Drummer (Mike): refused to tell us ;), so we promptly gave him a German name - Joachim (when we could remember), and Juergen (when we couldn't).
Dave (merchandise team): Alistair (spelling is approximate)
Jane (merchandise team): 'haven't got one', so that is exactly what we called her

It didn't take long for the game to fall into complete disarray, as we kept forgetting to use the alternative names, though not before I had worried a couple of them by threatening to 'rob Peter to pay Paul'.

Signally failing to eat satsumas

Although there is sometimes fruit as part of the rider, it can never be counted on, and I decided to clear my fruit bowl before I left and bring seven satsumas out with me rather than let them go soft and mouldy at home while I was away. I dutifully dragged this fruit on and off trains and from hotel to hotel, periodically offering them to the others...but only had one taker in the four days. I then forgot to eat any of the remaining half dozen myself, and brought them all back home again. However, I am pleased to report that they did in fact withstand the rigours of the journey, and I promptly juiced the lot on my return.

Ongoing pillow disappointments

The pillows continued to disappoint on this tour, being mostly of the large square flat variety, which is neither use nor ornament - or not any use for sleeping, anyway. Occasionally these 'expansive flaccid travesties', as I came to term them, sported a curious embellishment in the shape of a tiny boudoir pillow perched on top, to which someone had administered a swift karate chop. It was so small that it was completely futile as a second layer. As ever I ended up trying to fold the main pillow in half, but when I stuck my head on it, it quickly had the same effect as the karate chop on the little one, and I could feel myself sinking right down to the level of the mattress, as though I were 'sleeping' (I use the word advisedly) in a feathery gorge.

Eating leftovers in a timely manner

Eating on the run has its downsides, not least the lack of a fridge to store any remnants of food you might have. My natural squirrelling tendencies mean that I hate waste, and often fashion eclectic meals at home from an array of unrelated leftovers. I get excited at the uncharacteristic appearance of a mini-bar in hotel rooms - not because of the drink contained within, but the boon of a refrigerated appliance for storing food. Thus it was that I kept a few wedges of pizza left over from a late night snack in Berlin in my mini-bar, before packing them to take on the plane back to Gatwick the next day. It was very hot that Sunday, yet amazingly the food was still cool to the touch when I opened my case at the airport, and shortly afterwards I stood munching cold pizza on the platform at 3pm, feeling smug that I had got it down me before it became unsafe to eat. To be fair, I would have felt even smugger had it been warm, but I can't see me travelling with a microwave in tow anytime soon.

Cold pizza not pictured!

Bananas as an airport security risk

While we are on the subject of food and airports, I could mention a conversation about bananas I had with Andy - sorry, Peter - at the airport in Berlin. We were both eating the fruit in question simultaneously, and I explained to Peter that I had given the working title of 'Banana in the Briefcase' to a humorous travel book I have yet to write about my escapades on work - and latterly also band - trips (though a fair bit of potential copy ends up here, which I may repurpose one day...!). Peter immediately twigged to my intended meaning, namely as a metaphor for an accident waiting to happen, because of a banana's propensity to turn to blackened mush at the drop of a hat, which can of course be disastrous if you keep any important papers or a favourite fountain pen in your briefcase. This in turn prompted him to observe: 'Better eat up, or Security will construe them as a pulpy liquid and take them off us.' And we all know how many alarming attempts there have been to hijack planes with bananas that are well past their best...

Musicians as scent mules

Also at Berlin airport, I realised that thanks to Geza's generosity with samples for everyone, I was now well over the limit of toiletries one can reasonably stuff in those plastic freezer bag things you take through the X-ray machine. So there was nothing for it but to distribute my surplus amongst those in our party who had hold luggage with room to spare. Consequently, some of Geza's perfumes went in Tara's guitar case, along with my own perfume selection for the trip, while the majority, still in their cardboard box, were packed away with the drummer's cow bell. Oh, and my deodorant went with the merch team, who were flying to Luton, not Gatwick(!), so I was reunited with that item some weeks later. Jane whipped it out of her handbag with a dramatic flourish at an Indian restaurant, much to my amusement. And it would have been funny if the various members of our party who had acted as mules for me had been asked if they were 'carrying anything for somebody else', and had all said: 'Oh yes!!' and pointed at me...;)

The running joke of glass in Tara's foot

Quite early on in the trip, Tara the singer announced that he had a splinter of glass in his foot, which was giving him considerable gip. Over the course of the week he poked and prodded it in a bid to wiggle the sliver to the pinprick-sized hole where it had got in in the first place, before burrowing laterally under the skin. At one point, Peter came out with the cruel yet priceless quip: 'If we laugh at your poorly foot, would that be 'Shard-enfreude'?

Gig in the round, King Georg, Cologne ~ via Mike Urban

Miscellaneous missions

Scarf retrieval

One of my roles on tour is to be a kind of 'runner' / 'gofer' / 'woman Friday', responding to any requests as they arise, often on an emergency basis. A prime example of this was when Tara realised he had left his scarf in his hotel room, just 15 minutes before our train was due to leave. I was immediately nominated as the fastest jogger, even on a hot day as it was, and despatched forthwith to the hotel (under an underpass, up a hill). I made it to the seventh floor, somewhat breathless, just as the 'chamberman' was cleaning Tara's room. There on the corridor floor was his scarf, which I scooped up in a flash, calling through the open door: 'This belongs to one of our party!' before hotfooting it down seven flights of stairs rather than waiting for the lift.

Holding things

Holding and carrying things is one of my main jobs, from guitars to drinks vouchers, to drinks themselves, to train tickets - and even lighted cigarettes. On a previous tour, Joachim the drummer had asked me to take his rucksack back to the hotel and keep it in my room overnight, while he went clubbing, unimpeded by the extra weight. He only went and realised at 2.30am that he had left his key in the rucksack that was now in my room(!), whereby hangs a tale...These past experiences rather conditioned me to expect to have to hold and keep things for hours at a time. Thus it was that at a gig in the UK the following week, three of the band were getting out of the car when the drummer handed me his rucksack, saying: 'Would you mind taking this?' I immediately asked if he wanted it back in the morning, to which he replied: 'No, only while I tie my laces.'

Impromptu photo shoots

The band had an official photo shoot in the afternoon before the gig in Mainz. The relaxed shot below was taken by Jane of the merchandise team, who was snapping away at the same time as the professional photographer:

Silly photo opportunities were not missed at any point, however. Here is a snap I took of them all (and a chap from the venue) in A Very Tall Lift at a theatre in Hamburg.

And here is one of me and Peter being all kinds of silly with the word 'Blumen' (flowers) in Mainz.

The Mutter of all headaches

On the first night of the trip, I drank a couple of strong glasses of red wine rather quickly - for logistical reasons with which I shan't trouble you. That evening (a Wednesday) an evil headache set in as soon as my head hit the flat pillow, which was to dog me till the small hours of Saturday morning. Everything became a struggle, especially in the heat, but I kept going, lapsing into lulls of pained slumping whenever the opportunity arose. As the week wore on, I ran out of my own stocks of Solpadeine, so members of our party stepped into the breach, offering their own analgesics of choice in ever increasing dosages and strengths. I tried paracetamol, ibuprofen, Co-codamol and finally, at midnight on Friday in the band dressing room, I popped a tablet of neat codeine kindly donated by Jane, and it saw the headache off in seconds!

I can't believe it's gone!

Now I have taken to calling life on tour as 'gruelling fun', and this trip was very high on the 'gruelling', but I felt so euphoric when the headache lifted - which segued into the happy encounter with Geza Schoen the following day - that it was almost worth the pain of the past few days, 'hitting your head against a brick wall and it being so nice when you stop'-style. Okay, I might not really mean that.

But you can be sure that while I still have the stamina, and the resilience to deal with the logistical curved balls that will inevitably arise when on the road, I will do it all again in a heartbeat.

Lighting at the Nachtasyl, Hamburg

Thursday, 5 July 2018

"Let's drip together": Roja Parfums sandalwood candle, and thoughts on all things hot and bothered

It seems to have been hot for as long as I can remember - easily since time immemorial - though realistically it has probably only been two weeks so far, with a further heatwave forecast for the next two. I could well say it is too hot to blog, as my office upstairs is an absolute sun trap, and there are times of day when the glare on the screen makes my desktop computer unusable. Well, I do have a Venetian blind, but it is such a faff interacting with cords, and a bunch of bunched up slats invariably lands on my head in the process. So I just accept a lesser window of computer activity, and a greater window of doing jobs round the house and in the garden.

Then later this month I am going to the 60th birthday party of a friend in London, and although the date is still a way off, my mind turned to possible presents for him. Thinking about it, the train fare was rather steep this time, so my presence may have to be a major part of his present, as it were. ;) Anyway, the first idea I had was this Roja Dove candle, which I have had for a while now. I always meant to give it to someone, as it is an inherently gifty sort of item that is suitable for pretty much anyone, except people who only like silver or who think that burning candles is an environmentally suspect practice (see my post on Aldi's scented candle range, which touches on this very matter). I had carefully kept the candle in its protective bubble wrap bag, but when I went to pick it up I noticed spots of what looked like black ink on the packaging, but which was of course molten black wax. Eeeugh, was my first thought, as I quickly discarded the wrapping and considered the candle itself. The label was also splattered in spots of black wax, while the surface had started to pool and bubble, not unlike a very sluggish geyser.

So clearly Roja Dove the candle has got a little bit hot under the collar in this weather, and sadly must be demoted forthwith from gift status. I was jolly interested to see how readily it started to melt though, even without the application of any incendiary material, like a match, say! Someone could write a bestselling song about the phenomenon, calling it 'Candle in the sun'...IAnd it is also a bit like the sunshine equivalent of that cake in MacArthur Park - though obviously substitute candle for cake and black wax for green icing.

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain

Ooh, rain, that would be novel?!

Anyway, this got me thinking about the trials and tribulations generally of being hot. I am managing to function by dint of sleeping only under a sheet, and changing my clothes a lot, but from time to time I do worry about my perfume collection. It is all upstairs in the warmest part of the house - in the dark, admittedly, in a variety of drawers and wardrobes - but the ambient temperature is still too warm. Are you experiencing unusually high temperatures where you are at the moment? And if so, have you altered the storage arrangements of your perfume collection?

I think I am going to do something about mine sharpish. And I guess I have the dripping Roja candle to thank in fact for bringing it home to me in such a dramatic fashion quite how hot it has got in my home...!

Ooh, it's left a little puddle!

Friday, 22 June 2018

Penhaligon's Orange Blossom: a tale of perfume, friendship, and the longest journey

I am all too mindful that I am overdue to blog again, even allowing for my more relaxed posting schedule these days...well, if I ever had a schedule, which is moot. I have at least half a dozen post ideas in the pipeline, but I don't feel like writing any of them. The simple fact of the matter is that a close friend (whom I will call 'M', with this being a public forum) died on Saturday, and she is still very much on my mind. Despite the exceptionally personal nature of this post, I realised that it would help me to process her sad loss by talking about it here, just as I am doing in private conversations with friends. Otherwise it could be a long time before I feel able to revert to my usual blogging topics - and tone.

Any readers who follow me on Facebook may already be aware of my friend's passing. I will copy across my tribute to her, to set the scene, as it were.

"What's on my mind?, asks Facebook. That's an easy one. The death of my friend M at the weekend, taken by cancer sooner than any of us thought. I had known M for many years, in different houses, relationships, and hair colours - on both sides. She came for Christmas several times, and it is my great regret that I only mastered the art of cooking an edible turkey after she turned vegetarian. Maybe because of that(!), I will never know. She loved bright colours, plain speaking, and any cats which crossed her path. She favoured a particular type of mug, and a particular kind of tea. She was the life and soul of craft nights, and often turned up unprompted with the makings of supper. She was a force of nature with a beautiful voice, a big heart, and an indomitable spirit, which will always be very much with us."

And here is one which also struck a chord, from another good friend, who hosted the craft session pictured below:

"Remembering and missing this unique, bold, compassionate, crazy, courageous, creative and generous soul. Without M I would be the poorer for so many laughs, tears, insights, experiences, places and wonderful people. She made things happen and made an impact on everyone. Those ripples, the memories and the connections between us that exist because of her, cannot be erased and will carry on through all of us."

A particularly messy craft night!

The last time I saw my friend in her flat - too poorly to be on her own at home really, and indeed it was soon after that that she admitted herself to a hospice - we had a long chat, in which she asked me to tell her all about my news: 'I don't want to talk about being ill.' I had made the food she had asked for and put it away in the fridge and freezer, though as I did so I wondered whether she would ever manage to interact with it. After about 45 minutes, she declared herself too tired to talk anymore, and I took that as my cue to go. As I bent over to kiss her goodbye, she exclaimed: 'Oooh, you smell nice!" and I explained that it was Penhaligon's Orange Blossom.

The last time I saw my friend in life was last Friday, at the wonderful hospice in a neighbouring town. At Val the Cookie Queen's suggestion, I took along a bottle of sparkling fruit drink - fizz being more palatable than flat, Val said - and when M felt strong enough to sit up for a bit we shared a plastic cup or two of that. I set the bottle of Orange Blossom down on the table by her bed, saying that this was the perfume she had liked, and perhaps she could have a spritz on her bedding or sniff it on an amenable nurse. I didn't realise at the time, but in hindsight I think my aromatherapy ideas came a bit late to be acted on. Not long afterwards, the doctor made her round, and I stayed at M's request while they had a difficult and moving conversation about her palliative care arrangements. After about an hour and a half I left - the next visitor had already arrived.

That evening, I spent several hours ringing all the friends of M's I could think of, urging them to get on over to the hospice as a matter of urgency if they wished to see her. Quite a few had no idea how gravely ill she had become in such a short space of time. I also planned to visit M again on the Saturday morning, but it was the first visitor - one of the people I had contacted in my address book blitz - who arrived really early, and happened to be there at the end. I was sorry not to have made it myself, but far, far more important was the fact that somebody did. And the bottle of scent was in the room too, its little bow at a crazy skew-wiff angle like wings reaching skywards. I know that an inanimate object is a very poor substitute for human company, but I was strangely comforted by the thought that it had been by M's side in the night. Her last visitor had in fact puzzled over whose bottle it was, as M herself did not wear scent.

I did go back later that day, and noticed that the perfume bottle had gone, presumed tidied up by a nurse. Then last Wednesday it made a surprise reappearance. M's brother and SIL - who lived far away and like most of us, had been caught short by M's sudden passing - had invited a few close friends of M's to the flat to pick out one or two keepsakes from her belongings. A number of musicial instruments found homes, including a guitar, an accordion, a hammer dulcimer, a boran, and a tin whistle. One of the girls from our craft circle had M's sewing machine, another the Nutribullet, and various pot plants and soft toys were also safely and lovingly rehomed. I opted for some crockery, including a whimsical teapot, and a subset of M's enormous wool stash. We had even spoken on that last afternoon of a brand we both discovered we owned - M had asked which colours I had and told me hers. And now, a week on, the wool is here in my house...

M's cup, my saucer - a perfect match

On a side note, I would love this to happen when my time comes...the thought of friends giving a new life to some of my belongings is frankly heartwarming. I would feel as though - in a small way - a part of me was going on to be part of the fabric of their lives. And goodness knows I have a lot of perfume to give away! Which brings me back to the Orange Blossom. M's SIL suddenly produced it out of a bag and held it aloft, inquiring: 'Did somebody want this?' So I claimed it immediately, explaining that it was in fact mine, and that I would very much like to wear it to the funeral. A sunny, uplifting scent, to complement the brightly coloured clothes we know M would wish us to wear. Here is my review of the perfume for anyone who might be curious.

M is having a woodland burial in a plot near her home. She will be singing several of her own compositions at the service(!), very likely including this rather apt track, These Fields Again.

Rest in peace, M; thank you for the music - and in the words of another of your songs, consider yourself well and truly wrapped in 'invisible string', such that you will never 'float away'. Or maybe we should make that wool...?

Monday, 11 June 2018

A spritz up the backside (not literally!): perfume as personal trainer, and my hairy brush with the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon

Same hall, different class! ~ Source: SLogan Fitness
I have read a few blog posts on the theme of 'perfume for the gym/workout', which usually take a matter-of-fact line, as though we were merely talking about choosing a scent for an evening out or for the office, ie a perfectly normal activity. So although this post treats the same topic, I am coming at it from a different standpoint. Because the fact is, I hate exercise. There, I said it. Shoot and defriend me now if you must!

Hmm, not so fast...I should perhaps qualify that statement slightly. I dread the thought of doing exercise, I don't enjoy doing it at the time - unless we are talking a country walk, say, but I invariably can't be a**ed to drive to the country - but I just LOVE the feeling afterwards, whether it is the floaty one you get from yoga or a generalised rush of euphoria from jogging. For the most part though, the enjoyment of the aftermath doesn't weigh heavily enough in the equation to overrule the kiboshing effects of the before and during feelings on my healthy intentions. Which is not to say that exercise doesn't get done by me in fits and starts here and there - I am a great believer in 'incidental exercise' as well as what the lovely Doctor in the House calls 'movement snacking'. How great is that expression!?! Now I am well aware that this is not enough on its own and that we all need (increasingly so as you age) a judicious combination of exercise of each of the four types: Cardio, Strength, Flexibility and Balance. These are all so important I have gone and given them capitals.

Source: Aroma M Perfumes

I do attend a yoga class on a Saturday morning, though I must confess I missed the last five weeks(!), due to a compellingly plausible excuse combination of weekends away and bad ears. Astonishingly I made it back this Saturday and it wasn't nearly as impossible as I feared. And on a whim, I sprayed Aroma M's Geisha Vanilla Hinoki before heading out, though I don't normally wear perfume when exercising. It turns out that I reviewed this scent almost two years ago to the day, and when I put it on before yoga its calming, faintly fougere vibe of vanilla and lavender, coupled with the sprightly opening burst of bergamot and the grounding incense and patchouli accord had rather surprising effects. For I felt much more motivated about being in the class while I was there, and a little less reluctant to go in the first place! There is a term 'resistance training' which is the same as our 'Strength' category and includes weight lifting and the like. Me, I need training to stop me resisting resistance training!...or frankly any kind of training indeed. ;)

But yes, in my discreet cloud of Vanilla Hinoki, the difference in my mood was really quite marked. I have no idea whether it would work equally well with any perfume I liked, but I sense Vanilla Hinoki teams up particularly well with the zen-like state yoga induces. Of course all exercise is ultimately relaxing for the body - and mind - but this one really hit the spot, no question, and was elevated to the level of aromatherapy in a sporting context.

In a strange postscript to the above, this unexpected bout of exercise was followed the very next day by more physical jerks(!), most unusually for a Sunday. A knitting chum called Felicity had kindly invited me and another friend as her guests on a spa day at Hoar Cross Hall, of which she was a full-time member. Obviously I jumped at the chance to spend some quality time with the pair of them, while swanning around grand surroundings in a fluffy robe. 'Swan' being the operative word on account of the garment's whiteness. 

Ghostly robed figure disappearing down The Long Gallery

Unfortunately, the day that suited us all for this three-way meet up happened to coincide with the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon - one of several such extreme endurance events being held across the world yesterday. Many of the main - and even minor - roads in the county were to be closed till early afternoon, and planning an alternative route was strongly advised.

Source: Express & Star

The other friend who was joining us never made it sadly, having spent many hours going precisely nowhere, before finally being turned back by a policeman somewhere near Rugeley. She had only gone twelve miles from home in all that time. Her hugely frustrating experience showed that you really needed to use an OS and Ironman road closure map in tandem to have any hope of figuring out a route - there were so many conflicting diversion signs on the ground that you would be sure to be trapped in endless Kafkaesque loops, as she was. The council really hadn't thought through the impact of their diversion signs, which were so numerous, and which referred to so many different (unspecified) routes, as to be of absolutely no use whatsoever. 

I had called the race hotline and enlisted their help to plot a route, yet I still managed to have a highly hairy drive even so. The road the organisers recommended was also closed(!), though it was in fact passable at a crossing point - which I knew in principle, but suddenly doubted. After a fruitless twenty minutes being catapulted between diversion signs in Uttoxeter like a ball in a bagatelle, I decided to override the closed sign and see what gave(!). Sure enough, after a couple of miles the crossing place and two marshals with bollards hove into view - they doubtless wanted to discourage casual passing traffic. I suppose that otherwise they could have spent the entire race shifting bollards like demented lollipop men. At the same time it was a bit naughty, as I genuinely thought for a moment that I couldn't go the way they said after all, and might so easily have given up myself at that point.


Getting across the cyclists' path was just the start of it though! I also nearly killed a dog that chased, and then ran out in front of the car; several 4 x 4s ran me into a ditch, and I narrowly escaped being rammed by a tractor as tall as a house as it careered round a bend, driven by a child. These were hands down the narrowest roads I have ever driven up/down, and I was in constant fear of meeting someone. With good reason as it turned out.

And so between the white knuckle drive, the yoga class I attended at the spa when I finally got there (two classes in as many days, hehe), and the 60 lengths of the admittedly half length pool...why, I virtually did a triathlon myself! Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration...

This wasn't the pool I swam in.

And I am very much hoping that Vanilla Hinoki has given me the metaphorical 'spritz up the backside' I need to get me exercising more regularly. Time will tell, but it has certainly given me a leg up for now.

Ooh, speaking of legs up, I am sure that girl was in my yoga class. I don't think I am good enough at holding the poses, mind, to ever end up covered in lichen.