Thursday, 14 March 2019

A Twilight zone Tom Ford encounter, meeting the Undinas, extreme burritos, and pancake urges: Part One


I will be 60 soon. A milestone age that focuses the mind wonderfully, and one to which I am wholeheartedly looking forward, in a way I never did with my 50th. For the big Six-O will usher in an era of free bus travel, free prescriptions (except I get those anyway), and penalty-free pension access, as well as an end to nearly thirty years of payments on an income protection policy on which I have never claimed. My bad for not breaking my neck while the going was good.

I should say that by and large I have been backwards in coming forwards about celebrating big birthdays. I spent my 21st on a solo moped trip in the South of France, my 30th getting lost and ripped to shreds by brambles in the New Forest, my 40th on my tod at a health spa, before downing a whole bottle of Bollinger and provoking a richly deserved hangover before the day was out. Then my 50th was marked by a quiet gathering down the pub to which I was oddly fearful that no one would come. And so for my 60th I decided to do something a bit more memorable and 'out there', not least because it wasn't even my birthday at the time.

For I have just returned from a band tour of the USA, largely funded by an unexpected legacy from my much missed friend who died last year. I knew that had she been less ill towards the end, M had planned to spend her money on a busking trip in Spain, so I felt sure she would have approved of my putting it towards another music-related travel experience.

In the past I have taken to calling these tours 'gruelling fun', and this one took gruelling to a whole new level. On three occasions we were all up for 24 hours, and normal days were very, very long and almost entirely lacking in downtime, or any demarcation between day and night. The clocks going forward the other Sunday robbed us of another precious hour of sleep(!). But despite the physical toll of our punishing schedule, the trip was a truly extraordinary experience, and I don't regret going one bit. One of its main satisfactions was the fact I survived, showed up on time each day, and didn't fall ill and become a liability to everyone else. That said, I might not rush to go back again, even if cost was not a barrier, as it ordinarily would be. Or not to the exact same places, say. There wouldn't be the same novelty factor second time round, plus I would go in knowing how ridiculously knackering the whole thing was!


My set list fail - "I had one (small) job!"

On tours to Germany and France I feel I add value in terms of translation and interpreting, but clearly in The States there was no such need for language services, and I was without obvious 'portfolio'. That said, on Day 1 I was assigned the small yet important role of copying out each night's set list. Apart from neat, accurate writing without any smudges or spotting, and the requisite spatial awareness to ensure you can fit all 17 tracks on one sheet of A4, I had to have my wits about me as the set changed from time to time - songs were left off or added, or played in a different order. I dutifully performed this task for the first seven gigs until we got to San Diego. By this late stage in the tour we were all dropping with tiredness, and I forgot to put in the extra track from the day before. I cannot even pretend it was a Freudian slip - it was not a song I particularly cared for - as it was a simple oversight on my part. When the band discovered the error mid-set, the singer announced the fact to the audience, while the bass player screened his eyes with one hand and peered pointedly into the crowd, as if searching for the miscreant. I apologised profusely afterwards, but it was all okay in the end, as they had in fact decided to take it out for good anyway after that gig. It seems I was merely ahead of the game...




As the tour wore on, I did acquire other (very minor!) roles. A smorgasbord of little ad hoc tasks that I was free to execute, being the spare person in the party. These included cutting pizza, finding entrances, dispensing essential items I happened to have on my person (moisturiser, tissues, bandage, scissors, sleeping aids and sweets (not a euphemism) ), holding things, carrying things, guarding things, muling cigarettes through Customs, waking people up on planes when their food arrived, scurrying ahead to recce eateries, fixing wobbly tables (a surprisingly common occurrence), executing a clean sweep of remaining green room snacks at the end of the night, and flushing overly sociable band members out of venues while I was about it. There was one task I didn't manage, however, as I didn't have time to go back to the hotel between the meal and the gig to carry it out, namely to 'squeeze' someone's wet laundry. I was flattered to be asked, mind.

Not being challenged for our ID

On arrival into Seattle, having been up already for more hours than we cared to calculate, we were pretty peckish, and several of us were craving something all-American like pancakes. In my disorientated state, I was still vaguely aware that 5th March was Shrove Tuesday, which seemed to seal our choice, and I promptly steered the party towards a nearby I-Hop. A cursory appraisal of the menu revealed a whole section devoted to dishes for the over-55s, to which the qualifying members of our party (all but one) instantly gravitated, thanks to the twin appeal of the meals being tailored to our demographic, and a bit cheaper. Which didn't stop us feeling distinctly crestfallen that the waitress didn't ask any of us for our ID...


Source: Pinterest

Napkin-intensive 'fist food'

Early on in the trip I had an embarrassing incident with an oversized wrap from Subway. It was absolutely stuffed to the gunwales with filling, and was the size and weight of a small infant. I only managed half of it in the end, and that very messily. T S Eliot's Prufrock famously wondered whether he dared eat a peach. He clearly hasn't tried one of these greasy torpedoes if that is the most undignified foodstuff he can think of. I ended up wiping my mouth after every bite, which led to the coinage of a term to which we had much recourse during the trip - 'napkin-intensive'. And yes, 'finger food' doesn't cut it either, as you needed both hands to get purchase on these squelchy zeppelins.


Source: Chew Boom

Pick up trucks with nothing on them

In all the miles we travelled by road - over 2000 at a guess - we passed a lot of pick up trucks. We have them over here, but they are an even more common sight on roads across the pond. And nary a one had anything on it, not even a dog or a pot of paint. What's that about?

Passive spliffing in venues

I mentioned in my last post that you only have to stand at certain points along my road to catch a whiff of waccy baccy. To my surprise I learnt that weed is legal in a number of states, mainly on the West Coast, such that venues in the second half of the tour were routinely fragrant in that - to my nose - still louchely 'erbal way, and there was some talk of skunk varieties in the green rooms. Largely amongst the indigenous support bands, to be fair.


Source: Portland Marijuana

My unprecedented hotel toiletry haul

Anyone who has stayed in chain hotels in Europe lately may have noticed the steady switch to wall mounted soap-cum-shower gel dispensers. It is a sad trend in my view, as one of the few perks of paying over the odds these days for a quite ordinary hotel pretty much anywhere is to nick the stuff in the room...from hotel pens and pads you really don't need (though that is not the point) to tea bags, sugar sachets, vanity kits, shoe polish sponges, and little bars of soap and bottles of shampoo. I always leave a token bottle of conditioner behind, not because I am ashamed of my minesweeping abandon, but because I can't be bothered to embrace a two-step hair washing process. You can imagine my delight in the US when every hotel without exception had 'takeaway toiletries'. Check out my haul below, insofar as Truffle's photo bombing permits. It is not even the definitive set, as I found six more bars of soap and a couple of shower caps since this shot was taken.




The leftover eating - and drinking - imperative

Living at such close quarters with seven other people means you get to know their little quirks.  I am mindful that I have a fair few idiosyncrasies myself, notably a phobia of lukewarm or cold food that is meant to be hot. Plus an aversion to gratuitously added value teas that purport to be 'something recognisably Breakfast', but do in fact have a surprise slug of caramel and spices in them. And one of our party happened to be most particular about not leaving waste food or drink, and I tried very hard to accommodate his strong line on this, finishing anyone's plate as needed, and swigging entire bottles of water on the very point of going through airport security. I got into the habit of getting a box to take my own leftovers back to the hotel, where we had increasingly started to find both fridges and microwaves. By the last day, I had stockpiled several pancakes the size of plates and a mound of quesadilla quarters, which sadly I didn't manage to dispatch before our flight home, though I had valiantly eaten reheated quesadilla for breakfast the previous morning. You may be wondering at this point why it says 'extreme burritos' in the title, when I appear to have been mostly eating quesadillas. In fact it was a bit of both, as Mexican cuisine proved to be the happy intersection of all our respective food requirements (carnivorous, vegetarian, vegan), such that we had floury wrappy things quite a lot. The burritos were as big as the aforementioned Subway wrap, which is why I moved onto the more manageably flat quesadilla in the end. And I borrowed the term 'extreme' from a menu option in Jack in the Box, which tantalisingly offered 'Extreme sausage'. If you absolutely have to eat there, please at all costs avoid the vile grey slime masquerading as hash browns.




Doomed attempts not to lose stuff

Following a distressing lost rucksack incident in Barcelona last year, I was determined to have nothing stolen and leave nothing behind anywhere on this trip. Well, that went well. From the very first day my long and ripply scarf kept falling off and winding up on the floor, and various members of our party repeatedly drew my attention to its dangerous trailing proclivities. I also left my wallet on the floor of a toilet that must have just flirted out of my handbag somehow - have you noticed how valuable items have innate leaping abilities? Luckily I realised the mistake at the bar a moment later before anyone else went in there! Then I also managed to leave an Urban Decay eyeshadow palette in some hotel or other (I console myself with the thought that it was rather long in the tooth already). I thought I had additionally lost a blusher, scissors, and eyelash curlers, but they all turned up in odd places by and by. Luckily, I was not alone in my carelessness. Three other members of our group left rucksacks behind in hotels and restaurants, but were quickly reunited with them by thoughtful staff, while the keyboard player left his laptop in one venue, without which his instrument would not have produced a single note at subsequent gigs! The following morning, after finally getting hold of the promoter as he emerged from a dental appointment, and making two eye-wateringly expensive cab trips into town and back, the keyboard player recovered his laptop, and the show could go on. Oh, and the drummer left a beloved jacket behind in San Diego. So glad it's not just me then.  ;)


Dunce cap of light


Perfume aspects of the trip coming up in Part Two!




Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Home Foul Home! A tale of supposedly spliffing sofas and frighteningly fetid footwear

Well, there's me waxing lyrical in my last post about the fragrant sillage of my house guests, when all hell breaks loose...Oh, the latest chap to stay borrowed my shower gel - a manly green coloured hotel freebie - which isn't the same thing at all as scenting the house with something he had brought with him. ;)

Yes, the first (allegedly) malodorous incident turned out to be a whiff in a pan - well, no whiff at all really. My good friend Kate, known as 'Crafty Kate' in our crafting circles, is a home interiors magpie who has an eye for - and is passionate about scooping up - a bargain. Her house is already filled to the gunnels with an eclectic and quirky assortment of furniture and artefacts she bought for a song, so to satisfy her ongoing acquisitive urge she has now taken to searching for items for her friends - often unprompted, but very often things we never knew we really needed till she drew our attention to them. And thus it was with a little two seater sofa she spied up in The Potteries for £20. Sort of mid-century, but with rolled arms that nodded more towards retro styling. Neutral beige woollen covers that had the odd grubby mark whichever way you turned the cushions. But hey, £20! First of all I had to clear some space in the bay window of the front room, which necessitated the re-homing of a very tall elephant's foot / pony tail palm with my neighbour two doors down. She was absolutely delighted, and has put the plant in the exact same spot in her bay window. With that I donated a lightly used tub of Oreo ice cream, of which she said her two little boys would make light work.




And so it was that Kate turned up yesterday with the sofa, which she had collected in her work van. I did pay her for the cost of borrowing the van and something for her time, in case anyone thinks I am a complete freeloader. 'Free loader' being the operative term! The first thing she asked was whether I had any Febreze or other deodorising fabric spray, as she reckoned the sofa smelt 'a bit 'erbal'. This being code for...well, you can guess what for. I said I didn't mind a bit of 'erbal actually, given that you only have to walk down my street to - perforce - end up 'passively spliffing' in the ambient air at several points. Anyway, I gave the sofa a good old sniff, but frankly I didn't detect any smell really, other than a sort of 'old wool' one, which was not at all objectionable.


A displaced pink chair, formerly in the window!

So we moved the sofa to one or two places in the room, and after Kate - and another friend who had taken custody of a throw K had also hunter gathered on the same trip! - had gone, I spent the next hour and a half rearranging all the furniture some more. And then some more again. I have put a throw over the little sofa for now, partly because of the grubby marks, which I may address at a later date, but also because the simple addition of another fabric made it fit nicely into my scheme.


Hall of shame...

So that was that...and then the same morning I smelt the most potent pong at a specific point half way down the hall. It made me catch my breath, it was so unpleasant, in a rotten egg / sewage kind of a way. I puzzled over this long and hard, looked under the hall furniture for a possible present from Truffle, rang my friend Gillie to ask her about the likelihood of a localised gas leak, and generally fretted a lot, thinking my house was unsafe, smelly, or both. And then something made me pull out a trainer (as in the shoe, not a fitness professional house guest who forgot to check out ;) ) from under a chair, and I suddenly spied a dark furry mass nestling inside. Nestling, and oozing...Having tossed the mouse, I examined the dark patches its partly decomposing body had left behind. Too extensive to disinfect/sterilise and wash in the machine, though I did have a go. Before tossing the wet trainers as well. Luckily, a cursory rummage in my T K Maxx receipts - yes, I really do have a separate folder for these! - revealed that I had only paid £12 for them in the first place. But still, it was a stomach-churning episode, second only to the discovery of an even more decaying mouse corpse in the loo once.

And on that unsavoury note, I will dream of more Airbnb guests coming, bringing fragrant bodycare products with them to fumigate the house...;)

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Serendipitous and subliminal sillage surprises, and functional fragrances punching above their product category

Apologies for another long hiatus between posts: if this keeps up, I will have to google the plural of hiatus to see if it is in fact 'hiati', and take great care not to get it muddled with the disaster-torn island in the Caribbean of the same name. In my flimsy defence, I was laid low by a flu-like entity for a couple of weeks, hard on the heels of the two sickness bugs I had in December. And I have also been busy lately with an unexpected flurry of work, which unfortunately overlapped with the most acute phase of the aforementioned viral entity. (Not a good combination, and one I hope never to repeat!) But more of the work would be great...;)

Now somewhere in that mix was a smattering of Airbnb guests, who were most congenial company, and two of whom are coming back soon. I have now had enough people to stay to start noticing a rather interesting phenomenon, of which more anon. The first point I wanted to explore is the smell of a house - any house. I couldn't tell you what my own house smells like - in a general, ambient kind of way, I mean - but I do know that when I step over the threshold into other people's places, such as the friends whose cats I feed, their homes have a completely different scent. I would love to do a blind test, whereby I am guided into one of these houses at random and asked to guess where I am purely by smell.

So that is definitely 'a thing'. And what I have also noticed, when I have gone into the bedroom where my Airbnb house guests have been staying, is that that room invariably also has a (new) smell of its own, most likely that of some toiletries they brought with them, with my money being on shower gel. On quite a few occasions now my nose has encountered a pleasant trail of scent, whether in their room, on the landing, or in the bathroom itself, that can last up to five days after the people have gone. Sometimes it is a sort of fruity, tangy fragrance - I spied a bottle of the Body Shop's Satsuma shower gel in the bathroom once - while other times it is more of a fresh, clean scent that I couldn't really place or describe, other than to say it is agreeable, and 'other' than how the room smelt before.

And my enjoyment of guests' (presumed) shower gel sillage reminds me of a recent post by Odiferess, in which she laments the explosion of new releases in the so-called 'niche' perfume market, dismissing many of them as cheap dross. She goes on to say that there are bodycare products that can easily hold their own with these pretentious perfume parvenus. And I couldn't agree more, indeed even before I had the experience of catching residual wafts of guests' toiletries, I had already been revelling in the scent of my own current shower gel, a bracking - bracking?...okay, bracing and cracking then - citrus and cardamom combo from Champneys. I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially at the price. The addition of cardamom is a nice counterpoint to the lemon and orange bouquet - or do I mean fruit bowl? - which could otherwise have lapsed into something blowsily generic. I am not a natural shower person, but I really could see myself turning into one with the enticement of this gorgeous product. What do you mean, I could just squirt some shower gel in the bath? I read labels, me. And for the record, I am not the sort either to defy social mores by having pancakes on Ash Wednesday.

Odiferess references the Elemis line of spa products - as Champneys is of course - which is another fine example. I have already blogged about the truly uplifting scent of my Label M hair mousse, into whose pot I could just bury my nose and inhale deeply, even if I have now reluctantly concluded that it makes my hair far too sticky to actually use. ;)

And finally, on a side note, I knitted a scarf as a Christmas present for a friend, who mentioned after wearing it for the first time that it smelt 'quite strongly' of perfume. I was taken aback to hear this, as I had smelt nothing myself, and had also knitted the entire thing on my lap, which is self-evidently unscented. Transfer of perfume from wrists to needles also seemed a bit of a stretch, so the only other 'transference occasion' had to be during the few seconds I tried the scarf on myself when it was finished, to check out its looping capabilities. For I cannot swear I wasn't wearing perfume then, albeit I would have applied it many hours earlier. The good news is that the scarf is washable(!) - and that the smell may wear off of its own accord eventually. Though I know perfume impregnating fabric can be pretty tenacious.

So there you have the conundrum...my guests may not know that their shower gel sillage lingers in the atmosphere after they leave - not that I mind at all! - while I had no idea I had 'knitted' my perfume into this scarf. Plus I have no idea what my house smells of generally, though if you have been there, you may do...!

Do you have a favourite bath or body product that is 'almost as good as perfume' - if not better in some cases...?


Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz versus Domestic Short Hair: Truffle, the feline felon, finally finds a furry Foxy fragrance!

Foxy detail from my new office chair
Okay, so that was a lot of alliteration, sorry. The 'f' words provide quite rich pickings in that regard. Now it so happens that almost eight years ago to the week, I wrote this highly silly post, exploring the potential crossover between perfume house names and other, more banal acronyms. I was inspired to pursue this whimsical line of inquiry by the sudden connection I made when looking at my late cat Charlie Bonkers' vet record card, which described her as 'DSH', short for 'Domestic Short Hair'. We perfumistas are really big on abbreviations, which often have an additional received hierarchy of upper and lower case letters - PoaL (Portrait of a Lady) springs to mind - and I immediately thought of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. And Dawn Spencer Hurwitz led in the 2010 post to Strange Invisible Perfumes (Self Invested Pension), Parfumerie Generale (Parental Guidance), and much more nonsense in similar acronymic vein.


Fast forward to 2018 (or a recent year, certainly, as my sense of time is a little sketchy these days), when I fell hard for the furry animalic amber beauty that is DSH Foxy. Dawn sent me a selection of samples of her newest releases, all in dinky little roller ball pots, and that was my standout favourite, closely followed by Zibeline. These tiny pots are a perfect sample size, but also quite easy to lose, as it turned out...I should know better than to leave small, easily battable objects on my desk. For I have a cat - a different cat now, also a Domestic Short Hair, you know the one - though I note on a veterinary site from which I ordered a flea treatment at the weekend that to avoid confusion, the DSH option has been renamed 'Regular Moggy'. I can't see my vet changing his record cards to something quite so colloquial any time soon...

So yes, you can guess what is coming next...at some point, not long after receipt of the sample of Foxy, the cat knocked the pot-ette from my desk and promptly made off with it. I do occasionally clean the house, but in the intervening months it never came to light again. Till the other night, when Truffle picked up a pencil in her mouth from under my nose and started 'hunting it' on the floor, as she does.



I knew exactly where this story would end up...the pencil would roll under the wardrobe or the bookcase, and Truffle would reach under each piece of furniture in turn with her paw, but fail to get purchase. The hidden recesses of my office have become something of a graveyard for pencils, but frankly I have enough overall to allow for half a dozen or more to go awol. It was purely the annoying scrabbling noise that Truffle made in her efforts to retrieve this latest pencil that made me lie down beside her and start reaching my own arm blindly under the wardrobe to see what I could feel.

The first object I retrieved was a petrified apple core, sympathetically juxtaposed with a William Morris print.



The next object was the little roller ball pot of DSH Foxy! Oh how happy I was to clap eyes on that again - there are probably three more wears in there.

I never did find the pencil...


Full view of foxy chair


Does your cat routinely steal and secrete small objects? If so, what?

And have you ever lost a beloved perfume sample, only to have it turn up unexpectedly months or even years later?


My as yet unhunted pencil stash

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

January is the cruellest month, with no more leaves: aka French house - the sequel

View from upstairs - denuded of leaves!
I have just come back from an extraordinary week, which has been a wild ride on every level - physically, mentally, and emotionally - in both good and bad ways! It has been perplexing and nerve-wracking, uncomfortable, exciting, funny, character building, exhausting, frustrating, and ultimately satisfying. And I have cycled through all those emotions and more, sometimes in the space of an hour(!).

For I have just spent a week in France preparing for the acquisition of my house in the 'within spitting distance of the Dordogne', and then putting certain things in place - from a water account in my name, to a radiator in a bedroom - once I was officially the owner.

I will keep this account thematic, as has become my wont in travel reports, kicking off with a little flavour of the house's story, followed by my own.

The house - a two up, one down detached property (plus an attic with lots of potential!), and dating from 1850 or thereabouts - was in the hands of the vendor's family for some 44 years all told: initially lived in full-time by her parents-in-law, from 1974 till their death around the turn of the century, and then adopted as a holiday home by the vendor and her husband for a few more years. Whereupon they decided they liked the village so much that they bought the much bigger, grander house next door and took up permanent residence there, while my house-to-be languished unoccupied for the next 15 years or so till I walked through the door last Friday. Interestingly, the woman who sold it in 1974 to the vendor's family did so because she was also buying a bigger, grander house...right behind my house! So you can see it is well used to being surrounded by its former owners, haha.


House at its saddest-looking, now the wisteria has died back!
The journey out

I am surprised to report that the journey out to France was somewhat eventful...First off, and most uncharacteristically, I genuinely forgot to lock my car in the long stay car park (as opposed to paranoically imagining as much), and enlisted the help of a shuttle bus driver to take me there and keep his engine running while I legged it over to do the biz. Back at the airport, I was subjected to a hard sell by the lady in the Jo Malone concession of the Duty Free, who was determined to sell me a 30ml bottle of something, thinking I couldn't possibly resist the 20% discount versus normal retail. I managed to escape without a purchase and just a spritz of Peony & Blush Suede, which I rather regretted, and wished I'd gone for Mimosa & Cardamom instead.

Once on board, I was pleased to see that my row companions were two adults of roughly my own age. As I explained to them, I am almost always seated next to babies and small children. "He's a bit childish, actually", said the woman, nudging her husband in the ribs. Then within a few minutes both the row across the aisle and the one diagonally opposite were suddenly full of very young children, luckily engrossed in that modern opiate of the child-friendly tablet.


Source: PCMag.com

I turned to the couple, and mumbled ruefully: "See...I spoke too soon."

Then while listening to the first officer's spiel over the tannoy, I clocked that one of the flight attendants was called Vanessa. I have never met another Vanessa in person, and decided to make myself known to her, even though I was travelling under the name of Kathryn. However, when she approached with the duty free trolley, I noticed she was sporting a gigantic spangly pink bow in her hair, and decided to pass on this particular Vanessa, even if another were never to come by.

At the French end, there was no sign of any luggage, despite our planeload waiting patiently for a good half an hour by the disconcertingly static carousel. At last a cry went up: "The belt is broken - the bags are coming in the lift!" Shortly afterwards I could see my case a few tantalising feet away just beyond the passport control queue. I went to grab it, but was told to go back, as people were not allowed to walk in front of the passport desks. Eventually a baggage handler made a three sides of a square sign to me over the heads of the queue, which I realised was an instruction to go out of the baggage hall and nip back again via a staff-only corridor to the rear of the lift, where my bag was indeed waiting, and legitimately grabbable.


The bears huddle together for bodily warmth

January is the cruellest month

The single most striking thing to mention about the whole week was the cold...damp, bone-chilling, freezing, bitter, bitter cold. With an occasional side of fog. I had to defrost the car every morning, and even in my Airbnb accommodation, which had probably seen no visitors since the summer and was heated purely by a single mobile radiator, I typically wore two vests, a top, a jumper, a sloppier jumper on top of that, and a TV blanket I had brought with me, slung over my shoulders. And often got under the covers of the bed to boot, even in the day! My own house, though, was a whole other level of coldness - it was like my garage in winter...a building with a roof and walls that manages to feel inside as though you were outside. This was doubtless due to neither being heated. I've never known a domestic interior that 'nippy', but was determined to make it through to the end of my stay in my own home, if it was humanly possible!


No sockets, so no heating in Bedroom 2!
Small world...twilight zone

There were two odd coincidences during my stay, which reminded me of the goldfish bowl nature of village life. The day before the meeting with the solicitor, I popped into the secondhand shop to buy a tumbler and a couple of dinner plates - or any other accessories that caught my fancy (a swan necked lamp, as it turned out). I had met the shop owner on my previous visit in November, and reminded her who I was, adding that I was about to get the keys to the house. "Were you thinking of staying there, only it's very cold inside?" Noting my puzzled expression, she added: "Oh, it was me that did the furniture clearance for the vendor! Well, apart from the pieces you are buying, that is. In fact I am popping back there this afternoon to have a bit of a sweep round." Well, how very handy...I was able to ask whether the beds I had bought had any mattresses on them, and she assured me they had.

So that was one curious incident. The other happened a couple of days after I got the keys, when I decided to pick up bin bags from the town hall, the usual repository for such things. For anyone using their house as a second home,as I plan to do for the moment, full-blown bins are not deemed necessary. There was a surprising amount of paperwork involved in the procurement of these rubbish bags - of two different colours, no less - one being for recycling. As I was walking out with the rolls tucked under my arm, a lady ran out of the adjacent office, brandishing a pair of reading glasses. "Oh, take these too, could you? They belong to Mme G. You are friends, right?", swiftly followed by a colleague calling after her: "Yes, they are." Mme G being otherwise known in past blog posts as L, she of the house in the same street, with whom I have stayed until I bit the bullet and bought my own French bolthole. ;) I was most impressed that the ladies at the town hall had made the connection between us, and promptly agreed to deliver the proffered specs.




Cold comfort food

This may sound hard to swallow - and it was! - but I went the whole week without access to any hot food. I had a kettle in my Airbnb, and went on to buy one for the house - the only object downstairs, no less - but there is only so much cooking you can do with a kettle. ;) In case you were wondering, there were no restaurants that were both open and within striking distance of my accommodation for the first four nights, or my own house. That's if you discount McDonald's, where I did have a chicken wrap on the night I arrived. The wrap and salad were cold though, and the dressing managed to cool pieces of chicken that were barely lukewarm to start with. It was still very tasty, but I didn't go back. Instead, I lived off cold chicken breasts and bread, bread and Camembert, plus 'main meal salads', comprising some combination of lettuce or pasta with chicken, cheese, ham and egg. I didn't have a fridge in either place, but kept food and milk very satisfactorily on the deck outside my Airbnb and later in the boot of my car.


Al fresco frigo

By the last day, the lack of hot food - on top of the glacial cold wherever I was - was starting to get to me, and I decided to investigate bottled gas options for cooking. There was an old metal gas canister under the sink in my house, long since emptied and disconnected. I had had an electrician come by that afternoon to separate my 'wheat from my chaff' wiring anomalies, and after doing so, he had advised me to get a lighter gas bottle that I could manhandle as a woman on my own, which would handily come with its own regulator and accessories.

Several towns and supermarkets later, I found a 10kg bottle made of plastic, paid 30 euros, and filled in the necessary paperwork (it was the bin bags all over again!), before mauling it home. It was immediately apparent to even a lay person such as myself operating on a purely 'shape sorting' basis, that the coupling pieces supplied were not compatible with my bit of pipe leading to the hob. Several YouTube videos later, I decided to ditch a few of the accessories and take the bold and possibly dangerous step(!) of making a more direct connection between pipe and regulator...and hey presto, I managed to get three of the four burners alight. The other may be kaput, or just playing 'hard to ignite'. Then it suddenly dawned on me that I had no saucepan. Ah well, there's always next time...

Source: Chronodrive

Aromatherapy

During the week I wore perfume every day, and in the absence of any company, it created a morale-boosting backdrop to my more or less gruelling doings. From memory the order was:

Day 1: Hermes Cedre Sambac
Day 2: Chanel Coromandel
Day 3: Guerlain Plus Que Jamais
Day 4: Mona di Orio Musc
Day 5: Puredistance 1
Day 6: Hermes Myrrhe Eglantine
Day 7: Damien Bash Lucifer #3

I left 3, 4, 5 and 6 behind in the bathroom, as I have more of these back in England. Resident bears, and now perfumes...!

Rolling refinement of my croissant preferences

One of my staple cold food options on this trip was a croissant. I tried croissants from three different boulangeries in all, progressively refining my purchase criteria as I went along. In the first bakery I asked for a croissant that was 'nicely puffed up'. It was pleasingly pneumatic, but suffered from being a bit too brown on top for my liking. So the next time I skipped the puffed up aspect and went for 'golden but not too well done', thinking that one stipulation per purchase was probably as much as I could justify. This one hit the spot pretty well, but could have been a bit more buttery, so in the third boulangerie I spotted croissants specifically described as 'pur beurre' alongside other mere croissants with no descriptor. So I asked for one that was not too well done, the presence of butter already being assured. Unfortunately that was the biggest mistake of all. It was leadenly lardy, and unremittingly flat. Back to the drawing board. Or a pain aux raisins, maybe...?

Pictured below is the most successful croissant of my visit, resting on what appears to be the original font in my house, but which is in fact apparently a sink.


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Unexpectedly noisy appliances

For a house which was virtually empty, the few things already in there managed to make a disproportionate amount of noise. This struck me as amusing, given how I had always associated my stays in the village with the most profound silence imaginable, give or take the odd owl or pigeon. However, that was while staying in L's house - my own turned out to have its own orchestra. For as soon as I stepped over the threshold, I could detect a piteous cheeping sound from not one but two smoke detectors. They had not been tested in years, and now their batteries were clearly failing. I took them both off the wall, but they carried on bleeping wherever I put them. If I consigned them to the car, they would only annoy other residents or passers by. So there was nothing for it but to take them immediately all the way to a DIY superstore, where I purchased a screwdriver and a pack of batteries, constantly apologising to other shoppers for the cacophonous contents of my carrier bag.

And then there was the panel heater in the main bedroom...the only heat source in the entire house...because - you've guessed it! - in the past 20 years no one has stayed there out of season. I had the heater on night and day on various settings, topped up by a small mobile radiator I had had the foresight to buy before getting access to the house, having of course been tipped off that it would be perishing inside. At night the heater didn't let up making percussive noises - partly clicking noises as described in the snippet below from a heating website, but also something more akin to the 'boing-boing' / 'clang clang'effect you can get from flexing a sheet of metal, not that I have done so lately.




"However, because the radiator body is made of aluminium, clicking noises can sometimes occur. These are caused by the expansion of the aluminium as the radiator heats up, but don’t worry – clicking does not indicate a fault on the unit."

Hmm, looking at this article, it seems my heater may also have issues with its mounting brackets and screws, compounding the 'natural' noises made by expanding and contracting.

"They're designed to create heat, not function as a one-man band!"

Haha, my heater definitely has pretensions in that direction, but to be fair I was so grateful for its warmth that I bunged some ear plugs in and let it do its thing.

Another job on the list for next time, along with fixing a flooding toilet(!), having the all-pervasive damp downstairs surveyed, essential wiring done, planing down the front door and shutters that stick, and jet washing the bright green algae off the rendering. (I have innumerable scary photos of all these offending items, but can't bring myself to post them. Suffice to say that in the hall, for example, there is a bit of a distressed, 'King's Speech room' look going on - and that is being kind. ;) ) Oh, and getting a fridge, as I may not be able to rely on the weather being quite so chilly next time...


My various light fittings were mercifully silent!

Clearing character reference hurdles

At the meeting with the solicitor, right before I was declared to be 'owner' of the house in the same congratulatory tone in which vicars pronounce the happy couple 'man and wife', I was told that I had passed the 'condamnation' checks. I inquired as to what these were exactly, and learnt that there is a register in France of anyone who has owned property in the past and abused their status of being a home owner in some way. For example, by sticking 20 desperate migrants in their house in squalid conditions, in a money-making modern slavery scenario. Seemingly there is no evidence of my having been condemned for such misdemeanours. On hearing this news we all laughed, and the vendor turned to me and smiled, watching for my reaction. "Ooh", I replied facetiously, "that's given me an idea now..."



"They wish it could be Christmas every day"

Both the town where I stayed before completing on the house, and a couple of neighbouring ones where I went in search of bedding and the gas bottle, set a lot of store by the celebration of Christmas. There were the usual light displays, but in the town where I stayed the first four nights there was also piped music in the streets...absolutely everywhere! The solicitor explained that they had one CD for the morning, and one for the afternoon, and played them on repeat. It felt odd somehow to be listening to "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" on 4th January, and the festive lights were still up and blazing in the other towns as late as the evening of 7th.




My village was too small to have lights as such, and its showing of Christmas trees - two municipal and two belonging to shop owners - was a little on the sad side. And also still up on 7th Jan!




Phantom perfume shops

Here are two signs that promised much, and delivered little. Well, in terms of actual perfumes that you sniff I mean, 'parfum' also meaning 'flavour' in French of course. So the cafe in the first photo can be forgiven, though it did cause me a disappointed double take as I peered in and spied only bags of coffee and tea on the shelves.




When I peeped through the window of the other shop, I wasn't rightly sure what I was looking at...




Wait, that's definitely a saddle, for starters...um...pair of steps...then it is anyone's guess. ;) Ooh, I do believe I spy some municipal issue bin bags!




Taking leave

Then finally the moment had come to shut up the house and drive to the airport. I struggled to secure the shutters with their little metal hooks on account of the way the wood had swollen and was jamming against the sills. The vendor (to whom I entrusted a key) kindly offered to watch out for the shutters banging and flapping in stormy weather, and go inside and sort them out. Then she gave me her card, plus a list of tradespeople her parents-in-law had used to do work on the house. Some of these may realistically be dead now, but you never know, plus they may have descendants. Then in return, I presented the vendor with a photo of her son as a little boy I happened to find in the attic....and the bag of rubbish you see hanging up on a picture hook in the photo below (by arrangement, I should add ;) ).


Vintage pink tiles and sink! 

Even though my house is like an ice box at the moment, and the weather at its absolute gloomiest and most depressing, I was genuinely sorry to leave it. I want to go back at the earliest (clement!) opportunity and have the chimney swept, a wood burner fitted, and warm its cold, damp bones. The house has had no TLC for 20 years or more, and though I can't afford to do everything I'd like to at this stage, the will is most certainly there. And it was precisely because - instead of hi-tailing it to a hotel, as I was so very tempted to do - I stayed there in the depths of winter and toughed it out, that I feel as bonded with the house as I do.

And at the risk of ending on a cheesy note, to quote the Labour party campaign song of 1997: "Things can only get better"...


"Don't remember me like this!"