Thursday, 2 April 2020

Hand washing and hand wringing: a Lidl liquid soap lookalike, and getting in a lather over lockdown

It's only been a few weeks, but I feel like a veteran of this lockdown lark, having 'done time' in two countries already. And I can confirm that as a person on my own it doesn't suit me at all. I didn't think I would react like this, for I am someone who routinely used to go on solo business trips for two, three, or even four weeks at a time, and I have lived alone for nearly eight years in my present house, and also for long spells in the past. No, what makes the current situation so hard to bear is the fact that you can't see your friends, not even to go for a walk at the appropriate distance, because they are not members of your household. During my solo walks I have encountered large families out together, pushing past on narrow pavements with no regard for social distancing, and have frequently been driven into the road. Same thoughtless jostling story in supermarkets. I have also seen knots of young people milling around shops and standing on street corners, and couples out jogging, and I doubt very much that they are all related. Then I have singleton friends who have rejigged their households the better to cope with the isolation: adult children have come home, sometimes with partners in tow. I don't blame them one bit, and I think I may be suffering from a case of "multiple person household envy". The tennis player Annabel Croft was interviewed on the radio yesterday, and she explained that having so many family members at home at the moment was unusually convivial. It sounded like Christmas every day, though she didn't exactly say so.

What else? There has been much talk in the media of people turning more to drink, haha, which amused me. I have always been an 'in-home' rather than a social drinker, but so far this year have stuck to my New Year's resolution of having three days of the week drink-free, a doubling of the tally I managed last year. Then I spoke to a friend yesterday, who said she was drinking a bit more than usual, and was also starting the day by bingeing on Bakewell tart from the local post office. I can't tell you how much she went up in my estimation for admitting that! And I do reserve the right to play the 'unprecedented times' card and progressively slide off my part-time wagon as the lockdown continues...;)

I have also been dabbling a bit more in exercise - I shan't overstate it, as I am a reluctant exerciser at best. I have mauled my 'vintage' Total Gym out of long term storage - a work out in itself, let me tell you - and stockpiled some cardio and resistance training videos, the shorter the better. I even watched a 6 minute introductory video of Yoga with Adriene, inspired by Tara of A Bottled Rose. All you had to do in that video was breathe deeply three times, and listen to her talk about comfy clothing, but I note that the next episode is nearly 50 minutes long, so realistically I may not get past looking out my mat(!). We'll see...I actually completed a ten minute exercise video I found on an NHS website last night, and today my knee hurts like mad, and I appear to have aggravated the arthritis in my other hand I didn't even know I had. So I guess the moral of all that is moderation in all things, hehe.

I am cooking a lot more, which is a good thing, and am also guiding ex-Mr Bonkers in his own culinary endeavours. He has never done more than open a tin of soup in his 61 years, but the current situation is driving him to buy and 'interact with' a whole range of foodstuffs. His first triumph was baking a potato, swiftly followed by an 'assembly' coup, namely putting a cheese and onion pasty and crinkle cut chips in the oven - requiring different lengths of cooking time and different temperatures! - while heating up baked beans on the top of the cooker. I told him that that meal involved complex organisational skills, and that he had done very well to have pulled it off without recourse to critical path analysis and a wall chart.

Now I don't know if you have found this, but all my usual service providers - energy companies, phone providers etc - appear to be hunkering down behind a veil of non-availability, which has led to some comically spun announcements, the first from British Gas:

"So for now, we can only help with prepay meter issues or emergencies (e.g. no heating or hot water). Please don't contact us about anything else. If you do, we've asked our customer service advisers to politely explain that we can't help right now."

And yesterday I was trying to communicate via Live Chat with Virgin Media. The AI bot didn't understand me for several exchanges, and when it eventually grasped my inquiry, I got the message:

"Just to let you know that we won't get back to you immediately, so you can get on with your day."

Whoohoo, thanks...!

I am still receiving a lot of promotional spam, also from perfume companies, which irks me, as perfume generally - and certainly buying any more - is the last thing on my mind. Le Jardin Retrouve and Diptyque are the worst offenders currently. Diptyque has been annoying me for years, as some readers may recall, and shows no sign of letting up. Oddly for me, all I have bought since the lockdown began is light bulbs, latex gloves, a couple of masks in case the Government guidance changes, and more probiotics, as in a pandemic like this the gut needs to keep up its game!

I say, have you seen any posters in windows asking questions of the neighbours opposite? A friend put one up wishing our mutual friend Kate a happy birthday, which was a nice touch. There's also the poster doing the rounds on Facebook where someone asks the name of a black and white cat in their neighbour's window (Answer: Walter), and I have just heard of another corker:

"What is the name of that pale Edwardian child in your loft window?"

Moving on, I cut my fringe the other day - with qualified success, it must be said. It is out of my eyes, but looks a bit wonky, and is still quite thick - my hairdressing skills are not up to 'wispifying' aka rendering my fringe 'choppy'. (Picture not available on request. ;) )

Hmm...I am also finding the lack of physical touch particularly's been four weeks nearly since I touched another person, and it is sad not to be able to put my arm round my elderly friend, which I am sure she appreciated. I can't even cross her threshold.

Oh, there was another happy consequence of the current situation: the gentleman with a keen interest in genealogy who kindly spent several years researching our family tree, decided to cast his net one more time and scooped up a bunch of Very Old Mussons from Freeby in Leicestershire, a village not previously on his radar. We are now back four more generations to c1550 and I have a new great great (etc!) grandfather called Valentine. A family tree 'freebie' indeed. He went on to recount his elaborate quest to find yeast, bemoaned the complete lack of eggs and sketchy supply of blueberries, and gave me a tip about 'ply splitting' paper proucts, assuming they are thick enough to start with. (FYI, I still haven't seen loo roll in the shops, though I believe there have been further supplies delivered - and possibly gone straight out again. Hand sanitiser is also something of a retail unicorn.)

Which leads me finally to the aforementioned Lidl Citrus & Herb liquid soap, a cunning fusion dupe of The White Company's bottle and the classic Jo Malone 'Lime, Basil & Mandarin' fragrance. It doesn't smell of much - which may be less an indictment of the product and more to do with my having symptoms of the coronavirus, though I hope not! - but it is incredible value for the not very much money it cost, whatever that was.

I would be most interested to hear your own lockdown stories, whether you are coupled up or on your own and not doing very well either! How you are passing the time, whether you are washing your shopping, leaving post for three days before opening it, and implementing other strange but strongly recommended Coronavirus measures.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

COVID-19 in Corrèze (19): the cowslip trip, and my flight out of lockdown on 19.03

I have just been to France. I got home again a week later, but I very nearly didn't. This is the story of that ill-fated trip.

NB I have other more fragrant topics in mind to write about, but nothing is as top of head to me as the Coronavirus pandemic, having experienced it in a country - and in an area with a postcode beginning with 19, no less - that is much further down the road in terms of numbers of cases, and where government containment measures ratcheted up at a dizzying speed in the short time I was there.

Yes, I see now that it was madness to go...Ex-Mr Bonkers rang me every day for four or five days before I went, begging me not to, telling me it was all going to go to hell in a handcart very fast all over Europe, and that I would be stuck in France with no means of getting back. As a concession to him, on the morning of my departure I rang my travel insurer (who were still contactable back then...!), and asked if I could invoke my insurance policy if I cancelled my trip voluntarily, because I was worried about what might develop while I was over in France. They said unfortunately not; the policy only applies when things start to go wrong. So rather than lose my sunk costs on flight / hire car / airport parking, I set off on Thursday 12th for East Midlands Airport.

Then before handing over my hold luggage at the check in desk, I quizzed the Ryanair ground staff about the likelihood of my return flight still sticking to the wall by the time I was due to come home in ten days. They said nothing was set in stone, but that they as a company wanted to continue to fly for as long as possible, unless government intervention on either the French or British side stopped them - or their crew got sick. Commercial reasons were less likely to apply to them ie too few passengers showing up for flights to make them viable, as they had already taken people's money whether they travelled or not (Ryanair not being an airline to issue refunds on unused tickets).

So I sensed a will to fly back on the part of Ryanair, and that was as much as I could glean without committing to the air...which I duly did.

It was similar weather to Britain when I arrived - lashing rain and cold - and I spent a good forty minutes trying to open my front door, which had swollen in the long winter months, the wettest on record. Having finally wrenched it open, I then had problems shutting it(!), and ended up barricading the door with furniture as a temporary measure to deter burglars, not that they are thick on the ground in the village. I also messaged my go-to handyman, asking him if he could take a look at it at some point during my stay: star that he is, he arrived in 20 minutes(!), at 10pm, and promptly hammered it shut with his (very strong) fist, before promising to return on Saturday and do a proper repair. (We didn't shake hands.) Meanwhile, I could still come and go via the very old stable door to the side, which was also tricky to use as the key wouldn't come out of the lock, but I finally mastered the knack.

Friday and Saturday were almost normal, dare I say it? The library in the village was shut until further notice, along with my favourite charity shop, but I was able to pop into the local brocante, and the Post Office and boulanger were also open. In the nearby town, everything seemed pretty busy, so I got some more keys cut, bought a walking map, did a big supermarket shop, stocked up on logs and a vac-u-vin. Bars and restaurants were doing a lively trade, but I noticed that people there were doing the social distancing thing with varying degrees of compliance, unlike in the village. I saw two men and a woman greet each other with the traditional French hand shaking and kissing on the cheeks, and overheard one of them say: "I don't give a f***", as he did so. This kind of defiant behaviour turned out to be the death knell of life in France as they knew it just a couple of days later...

By now the weather was absolutely beautiful, with temperatures ranging from 16 - 22C, in strange contrast to the air of cosmic bleakness that hung heavy over the village and France more widely. The cases were creeping up in certain hotspots, and the health services struggling. On Sunday I weeded the perimeter of my house and went for a long walk using my new map.

At some point over the weekend - I can't quite recall when! - ALL shops and hotels, restaurants and bars were closed, leaving only supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations and banks operating as normal. Small independent food shops, like the boulanger, were initially shut down, but later allowed to open again, meaning I was allowed to sample their apple doughnut during my stay after all - a small win.

On Monday in the day I went in search of kindling, as an open fire was the best way to stay warm in the chilly evenings. I had to visit three big supermarkets quite some way away before I struck lucky, and was shocked at how close people were to one another in the checkout queues, though I tried to step out of line and back in again when it was my turn. There was a lot of panic buying and the "Less than 10 items" till at which I was queuing had been hijacked by those with trolleys piled high.

Then on Monday night, President Macron addressed the nation for the second time that week and expressed his annoyance at his fellow citizens' flagrant disregard of social distancing. From noon on Tuesday, everyone was grounded or "confined" for the next two weeks, and could only leave their homes for one of a handful of reasons, and then only with a self-completed form stating the reason in question, called an "attestation de déplacement dérogatoire".

On Tuesday, half an hour after the new law came into force, I sallied forth to the newly reopened boulanger on a mission to score my much anticipated doughnut. It was a very short distance from my house, and I didn't bother filling in an attestation for a round trip of five minutes. (But I did take care to do so for every foray from that point on.) In the baker's there was a big sign saying "Card payments only". Imagine, paying by card for a bun...I offered to pop back to my house to retrieve my bank card, but they said if I could pay that way next time that would be fine. So I lobbed a two euro coin from a safe distance onto the counter and we chatted for a while about where on earth this was all going to end up.

On Tuesday afternoon, I went for another long walk, but this time I took an attestation with me, though forgot any ID, which you are meant to have on you as well. Going for a walk was a legitimate reason to leave the house, but I may have pushed the km envelope - now set at 1-2km I believe, though previously a bit fluid, depending on how good a walker you are(!). I didn't meet a policeman, though an extra 100,000 had been deployed for the specific purpose of checking up on people's movements.

On the walk I picked some cowslips and put them in a jug when I got back.

On Wednesday I went for another walk, and picked some more cowslips, which I added to the jug. I did the additional flower picking on autopilot though, for while I was out in the countryside I received a message from a neighbour who is on the local council, reminding me that I was also grounded, that the borders were closed, and that I had to stay in the village for the full 15 days, or however long a period of confinement it turned out to be.

This news sent me into a complete tailspin, for I was not at all geared for a long stay in my house, and I sensed that the confinement period would turn out to be a lot longer than 15 days in the end. My shower had just broken, I had developed a large hole in my tooth (crusty bread being the likely culprit), and had a cat back home whom I could not expect friends to indefinitely feed. Plus, at 85, my Elderly Friend (as she is known on Facebook) is in the vulnerable category, and I needed to get back to do my bit to support her. At a time of national crisis like this, the only place you want to be is home. Your main home, in your own country. This is no time to be 'on holiday'.

So I spent several hours that night researching the rights of British citizens to jump 'confinement' and go home. I messaged a dear perfume friend, whose French husband rang me up late at night to assure me that "going back home" was a valid reason for travel, as long as I wrote it on the attestation form, as I had been doing for my walks.

Then very early the following morning I received a travel advisory email from the FCO, telling me to leg it basically, if I wanted to get back to the UK - for while the borders were still open, the transport options were closing down fast. I needed no telling, believe me, notwithstanding the town hall's wish to keep me there. Ryanair had already indicated that they were suspending flights from the following week, so if I didn't make a break for freedom sharpish, I knew I might be trapped in France for weeks or months to come. At 10am I discovered that the first of the three return flights to the UK I had bought! ;) (to cover all bases), had been miraculously reinstated, though it had been cancelled shortly after I booked it. So I promptly checked in online and set about packing up for an immediate departure.

Thus it was that at noon on Thursday 19th I did a 'daylight flit' to the airport. I also took along with me two kinds of rubbish. Ordinarily I would give these to my neighbours, but no one wants things you have touched anymore, so I took the bags with me. The household waste I put into the large dumper bin of a closed restaurant, while I tipped my green waste (the weeds from round my house, plus the cowslips ;( ) into a thicket in a forest, where I figured they would compost down nicely.

Departure lounge as I have never seen it before!

I drove on to the airport...the roads were eerily empty - quieter than Christmas Day - and in the large town of Limoges all but one of a dozen traffic lights turned green as soon as they saw me approach, which was also spooky. "Oooh look, a car, let's turn colour!" I made it to the airport with four hours to spare before take off, but I was just so glad to be there. In the concourse there were two roving (and masked) reporters from national TV channel France 3, who, having overheard me speak French to the check in staff, asked if they could film and ask me a few questions. They basically wanted to know why I was going back to Britain: was it because I was afraid of staying on in France? I explained that I had caring responsibilities for an elderly relative and that I wasn't afraid of the virus in France as such. I just needed to be back home, surrounded by my network of friends so that we could provide mutual support to one another. I also mentioned my responsabilities to Truffle. I didn't mention the broken shower, but now that confinement was in force - also for my handyman - that was not going to get fixed any time soon...

On time, a few hours later, the flight took off. There was no problem doing social distancing on board, as there were only 15 of us on the plane! I could have hugged the Northern Irish captain and all the crew for getting us out in the nick of the time, but obviously hugging is not the done thing now. The plane landed just before 6pm, and I was home - and incredulous to be so - by 7pm.

A 60 hour throwing up migraine promptly ensued, from which I emerged this morning...

Now I am back, I am behaving like a French person and carrying on my confinement: I am only going out for essential reasons, wearing gloves, washing my hands all the time, and not letting anyone into my house. I am even wary of mail. This illness is truly horrific if you get it badly - which is happening to people of all ages for reasons no one can fathom - so the more we all knuckle down and self-isolate, the more the NHS will be able to cope with the many casualties yet to come.

PS In case anyone is wondering I did wear perfume most, but not all of the time, because when I am truly stressed, not even perfume has the capacity to calm. But I do recall Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess on the way out from the tester in the Duty Free, Chanel Bois des Iles, Aqua di Parma Magnolia Nobile, Flower by Kenzo Oriental, L'Erbolario Meharees, and Hermes Vanille Galante.

Right now, however, I would happily sell some of my collection in return for toilet paper, having missed the panic buying peak in the UK while I was away!

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Hyacinth harbingers, and the final phase of the utility / shower room makeover

Well, I don't know about you, but I would say 2020 has been a bit of a rum year so far. The uncertainty about Brexit has been supplanted by uncertainty about the Coronavirus, and having sprained my pelvis over Christmas, I have now managed to sprain my foot as well, though luckily not to the point of non-functionality. And I swear I am not fishing for people's sympathy, for it seems almost people who bag Munros or make it their mission to visit every castle in Wales, I appear to be systematically working my way through my anatomy, spraining one body part at a time...! My friend Jim (of perfume focus group down the pub fame) quipped on hearing the news: "A true enthusiast would be doing it in alphabetical order." Waggish Katie Puckrik also weighed in, inquiring whether I had sprained my "ironing wrist" yet. To which I replied:

"Hahaha, thankfully not yet, but if I follow Jim's recommended alphabetical spraining MO above, I shouldn't get to 'wrist' anytime soon. Unless qualified by 'ironing', which would bring the incident forward somewhat?"

And as with the virus, I shall be asking myself: "Is your journey really necessary?", and turning down offers to 'go for a walk' as opposed to walking from A to B for a particular purpose. A spot of self-isolation would not be too great a blow, given the tottering tsundokus on my coffee table, not to mention my current obsession with knitting dishcloths. As you can see, I have been stockpiling books, not toilet rolls or tins of chick peas. Though that has a lot more to do with my tendency towards bibliomania than any formal kind of disaster planning.

Now the start of the year is often rather a gloomy time anyway, with January 6th seeing a peak for divorcing couples, and 18th January being designated Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. This date was arrived at using supposedly scientific methods:

"The formula uses many factors, including: weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action."

It has, however, been discredited by a neuroscientist from Cardiff University, who dismissed the work as "farcical" with "nonsensical measurements". My sister-in-law also begs to differ, as she turned 70 on 18th January and remained perfectly chipper all day.

Against this background of dramatic world events and bodily gyp, I must say I have found solace in two things: the therapeutic effect of flowers in my own house (notably hyacinths, of which I have been buying serial pots from Lidl for the princely sum of £1.99), and also flowers in that of my friend M, with whom I have a reciprocal cat feeding arrangement.

The pink ones were followed by the blue ones at the top of the post! And here is a pretty display at M's house, made all the more fetching in my eyes by the adjacent bottle of wine:

It doesn't count as an uplifting floral, but I enjoyed getting a whiff of beeswax from this tall pillar candle as I went upstairs each day to sort the cat's litter tray.

Also offsetting the downbeat feel to the time of year, there has been the relief of finally completing the renovation of my utility-cum-shower room behind the kitchen. Some readers may recall the utter mayhem that prevailed last winter during attempts to level the floor and lay floor covering (in vain!) over the new substrate. I wrote anguished posts on the 'one step forwards, two steps back progress' of the works here, here and here.

In the last of these, I reveal the near completed bathroom side of the room, but the utility side was not tackled for another nine months, and it was only three months after that that the final bits of decorating and touching up were completed. Not by me, I might add, though I did run to B & Q a lot for materials, and was gainfully employed making tea much of the rest of the time.

Just to recap, here are some of the 'before' shots...

A very big Belfast sink indeed!

Bye-bye loo...

The shower tray leaked under the floor, so when this flaw was finally discovered after three months of daily use(!), the fixture was belatedly condemned and used for storing Hoovers and mops.

There was a cobwebby vent in the window, and a bizarre metal rod piercing the area immediately above it.

The electrics had to be rerouted from upstairs, as there were two few power points for the number of appliances, and visible plugs also had to be hidden to comply with bathroom regs.

And I was never a fan of the Stoke City livery, so the red had to go...

Then the too short worktop, which I had taken to calling 'Shorty' in a bid to reconcile myself to its 'near miss' nature, has been bulked out with a piece of wood and painted. (The plumber who assembled the unit didn't realise there was an end panel on the side of the cabinet before cutting the worktop to size.)

Shorty before...if you look carefully, you can see that the white worktop finishes a frustrating fraction before the end of the unit.

Shorty is now 'a bit Longery'...

And here is the end result, with shelves stained to match the floor, a mirror and pictures, and other bits and bobs.

I cut some japonica from the garden, adding a cheery spray of snowy blooms to the window sill. Those are Floris's jasmine-scented soaps, and if I need a bit of a lift, I lean in and sniff them instead, as japonica doesn't really smell of anything, though its blossom looks pretty(!).

And the utility side, with a new worktop and small freezer, replacing a tall freestanding one that was bigger than I needed and dominated the room almost as much as the condemned shower opposite.

A view of the cupboards on top, plus new boiler! The previous one was 18 years old and on borrowed time, which I didn't feel I dared risk with paying guests.

Here is the shower again to complete the virtual tour, though that was finished a year ago.

There is so much more to do in and on the house (cracks galore, window repairs, new kitchen one day as the current one is 25+ years old, as well as sorting out the jungle that is the garden - it has been allowed to run riot in recent years due to my woeful lack of knowledge of all things horticultural).

But for now, doing the laundry has become a pleasure - almost - ditto the ironing, until the day I do eventually sprain that wrist... ;) And Lidl still has stocks of hyacinths for when the blue ones completely keel over.

Are you finding comfort in spring flowers or completed home projects...?

And do you also find that hyacinths are constitutionally floppy?

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Results of the Puredistance GOLD 'Paying it Forward' giveaway!

I see that the last draw I featured on Bonkers was for a dishcloth, lovingly handknitted by moi, with Annie A in Canada the lucky winner - or unlucky, depending on how you feel about doing the washing up. I do remember that across the pond generally, what we call 'washing up liquid' is known as 'dish soap', though that is not so far removed from 'doing the dishes', I suppose. And funnily enough I am busy knitting a whole stack of dishcloths in different colours and patterns at the moment...

But hold on, I hear you cry...can you please get to the point of who won the Puredistance GOLD draw?

Well, I excluded the DNEMs, who were several, and put everyone else's name into the virtual hat that is the online number generator, Back in the day, as long term readers may remember, I used to get Mr Bonkers to call out a random number, and funnily enough he was here this afternoon, but I had already done the deed by that point, so didn't need to resort to my trusty human method.

It was noteworthy that of the eight participants who wished to be entered - I told you the odds were good on here! ;) - no fewer than three had Christian names beginning with 'H'. So I did think there was a fairly high chance that an 'H'-named person would win, and so it has proved.

Without further ado I can reveal that the winner of the Puredistance GOLD giveaway is:



Let me know your address on flittersniffer at gmail dot com, and I will post your sample off to you. 

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Paying it Forward: (in) Puredistance Gold

"This post is a part of a joint mini project, a.k.a. giveaway, held by Undina (Undina’s Looking Glass), Vanessa (Bonkers about Perfume), Lucas (Chemist in the Bottle) and Portia (Australian Perfume Junkies) – see details at the bottom of the post."

Ooh, I haven't participated in a joint blogging project in forever. I do remember one in 2010 on The Scents of the Mediterranean, and there must have been an example or two since. However, with being a bit of a lone wolf that walks by itself I haven't tended to do much in the way of collaborations with other bloggers. To be fair, I haven't done much blogging lately, period, which has as much to do with the ongoing jip from my sprained pelvis (and inability to sit still for long periods) as it has with any dip in my fragrant mojo. Be that as it may, the rationale behind this particular joint exercise struck me as so worthwhile that I am delighted to have been asked to host the UK end of the giveaway.

Without further ado I should add that this initiative is the brainchild of Undina, who explains how she lit upon the idea on Undina's Looking Glass.

For the full background do hop over to her blog, but in brief, Puredistance is a fine example of 'slow perfumery' (to annexe a term perhaps best known in the context of cooking and travel). It has gradually increased both its stable of fragrances and its retail network, growing the company in a measured and organic way, also in terms of its marketing approach. Undina feels (and I wholeheartedly agree) that Puredistance has always been appreciative of the varied and highly individual ways in which bloggers have spread the word about its perfumes. The company even collated their reviews into a presentation book, which I have never seen done by a brand before. To this day, 11 years on from the launch of PD 1, Puredistance continues to be unstintingly generous to the blogging community in its provision of samples. This was never conditional on their part, and by the same token, we bloggers wrote from the heart and not as part of some tacit quid pro quo arrangement that 'free stuff' would automatically come our way. But because of Puredistance's respect for the blogging community and its voice, I'd say this naturally led to closer - while still independent - ties.

Conversely, owing to the limited distribution of the brand, the fact of the matter remains that most people reading reviews will probably not have the opportunity to try these perfumes in a store anywhere near them. Which is why Undina thought it would be a nice idea to hold parallel giveaways in the four regions of the participating bloggers, enabling one reader in each area to win a sample of Puredistance's latest release, GOLD.

Here's the technical detail, courtesy of Undina:

"Puredistance Gold Sample(s) Giveaway

One ~ 1.5ml handmade sample of Puredistance Gold is offered in a giveaway on each blog for a reader from the specific geographical region:

Bonkers about Perfume - the UK
Undina’s Looking Glass – the US and Canada
Chemist in the Bottle  – Europe (without the UK)**

While you’re invited and encouraged to comment on any/all of the participating blogs, to be entered into the draw you should leave a comment on 'your' region’s blog, following the instructions given there.

The draw will close on February 23. You know all the disclaimers etc."

Now I love GOLD myself and for anyone who hasn't tried the line, it is an ideal introduction to Puredistance's luxurious yet wearable style. Links to my review of it and those of five other scents are listed below, along with one to my post about visiting the offices of Puredistance in 2011 - I was apparently the first blogger to do so. I received a very warm welcome from Jan Ewoud Vos and his team, and at the end of our meeting was given a memorably packaged(!) ;) slice of apple cake for the road.

Editor's note: It occurred to me that as Bonkers receives few comments anymore - looking again at these reviews has rather reminded me of that - if you are in the UK the chances of scoring a sample here are extremely high!

**Europe (without the UK) Ah, how true...;(

WHITE and BLACK cosying up together

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Pines, spines, and clementines: A Bonkers Christmas and New Year Round Up

Well, here is another post that has been a long time in coming, but in my defence it hurts to sit, and the latest office trend of 'standing desks' has yet to reach Bonkers Towers. But mindful that it will soon be Shrove Tuesday at this rate, I thought it was high time I wrote a bit about the holiday period, and about taking stock generally.

The three scents of Christmas

A Facebook friend asked me in the run up to Christmas what my three favourite smells were around this time, and I came up with these in about half a second:

  • Pine needles (notwithstanding my little artificial tree)
  • Myrrh* (a favourite note in perfumes, and also in Bengale Rouge - see below!)
  • A successfully roasted turkey (by no means a given in my world)

* As immortalised in the Billy Idol song: "In the midnight hour she cried 'Myrrh, myrrh, myrrh'!"

NB For more on my agonies down the years as to the correct method of cooking a turkey, please see this post. I could add the smell of clementines, given the option of a fourth, but they have their moment later in this post.

Perfumes worn over the holidays

A three way tie between Bengale Rouge, Puredistance GOLD, and Hiuse of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved, all of which feel suitably Christmassy to my nose. I also gave PoaL an airing, inspired by the talk in Liverpool featured in my last post.

Holiday oddities

December was a very sociable month generally, with a total of 25 'socialising units', where a unit is either a party or other event, seeing a friend, or having a long phone conversation with someone. I would have been happy to spread these units out over several months, but that is not the way Christmas tends to go. In amongst all the gatherings, a few amusing things occurred...

Trans terriers, non-binary St Bernards, and universal Christmas cards

Here is the oddest 'envelope' in which I received a Christmas card. It was some kind of brainstorm or checklist used in a gender awareness workshop by a friend who does arts in the community (or something). To me it looks like a tentative way to address a trans terrier or non-binary St Bernard, but I could be wrong. Note the amusing juxtaposition towards the bottom of 'lesbian singer beast lover of artist'.

The card inside was handmade, but quite normal, signed, but not addressed to anyone. That's the second card I had this year where the donor told me to "pick a card, any card!", from a carrier bag full or whatever. "What if it doesn't say my name on it?" I piped up. "None of them do!" The one my friend Mary gave me (she of the trade fair in Brussels where I helped out on the stand) - or which I chose from the fan she held out to be exact - had gone a step further by being completely blank inside; it featured one of her past designs, now gracing soft furnishings by Matalan and IKEA etc. It is so nice in an Indian Paisley type of way - and big! - that I might even frame it. This strikes me as a much more flexible (if less personal ;) ) system than committing to a particular person in writing, and then failing to bump into them that Christmas - or any Christmas. Assuming you are determined not to post the card.

It IS rocket science!

My Christmas Day was uncharacteristically memorable, as I was invited to a lunchtime drinks party - I don't normally go out once I am somewhere for Christmas, as it were, which is usually at home. Anyway, it just so happened that I met an actual rocket scientist(!) from Hyde, whose aunt was killed by Britain's most prolific serial killer, Dr Shipman - either one of those facts would have lent exoticism to the event, never mind both. He featured in some Wallace & Grommit production apparently *as* a rocket scientist. He was wearing a black shirt with planets and slightly sparkly stars on. A waggish friend suggested:

"It'd be good if more people, e.g, [insert name of mutual friend who is a gastric nurse], wore clothes with their day job designed on them."

NB The same waggish friend pointed out that the date I mentioned in my last post as being symmetrical - 19.12.19 - was merely 'repetitive'. He is quite right in fact, plus the 12 rather obstructs proceedings. 

An existential llama crisis 

This Christmas, I gave a friend a tea towel with a knitting theme on it, plus a felt llama tree decoration. A few days ago I received the following message:

"Today the serious debate at home is not are we on the brink of World War III or if ethical veganism is a philosophical belief, but whether we can squeeze the llama gift into the class of an objet d'art or if it has to be classed as a Christmas decoration (the difference of course being consigned to a box or not). Input please!"

To which I replied:

"LOL at your llama dilemma. Or should that be LLOL? I think the string condemns him to Xmas dec status - I've had a similar existential crisis with a gingerbread man in a jaunty tartan scarf."

Oh, and then there was Santa, living it large on the lodger's bed while he was away, and having found the biscuits!

Best new release of 2019

With every passing year, I realise how much I am out of touch with the perfume scene. Other bloggers compile their 'Best of 2019' posts - as I used to do myself indeed - and I only recognise at most one name on the list, haha. This year that name has been Papillon Perfumery's Bengale Rouge. I don't even stop to look out for new things at airport duty frees now - a new release has more or less got to be put into my hand for me to try it, such is the pancake flat state of my perfume passion plateau. So there you go - the best new release of 2019 for me is (by default) Bengale Rouge! To be fair, I suspect it might hold that spot even if I had tried some of the other new things. I haven't even smelt Rose et Cuir by Frederic Malle, though I really don't think it would be for me.

2019 perfumes I might have liked if I had smelt them(!)

To answer this question I took a look at Victoria's round up on Bois de Jasmin, my taste being closely aligned to hers, by and large. The scent that caught my eye in her list was Miller Harris's Sublime Blossom:

"Sublime Blossom is a creamy flower wrapped in musk and sandalwood. The main floral accent here is osmanthus and ylang-ylang, both of which have a luscious fruity nuance."

I am a sucker for ylang-ylang, and recently bought a little bottle of the essential oil for use in the bath. There is more to that story in fact, which I may save for another post about my last trip to the French house...

Then Van Cleef & Arpels Santal Blanc is another of Victoria's picks, and the note list is a little unusual:

Notes: fig, orange, violet, sandalwood, tonka bean and musk

Somewhere I still have the several tonka beans Victoria gave me when I visited her in her flat in Brussels. Given the extraodinary reach of her recent international wanderings, you'd be hard pushed to visit her anywhere these days!

Trying new things 

This year I am not going to bring out the tired old resolutions of yore, like those overly familiar Christmas decorations you can't bring yourself to chuck out. Somewhere at the back of my mind I do of course still want to take 150 minutes of exercise a week - which is only 20 minutes a day after all. I think I am probably doing that already simply by going about my daily business. And then of course I also hope to do press ups against the pantry door while reheating my tea in the microwave, and engage in casual bursts of weight lifting involving tins of beans. Going to bed earlier and cutting down on alcohol are also loose aspirations somewhere in the furthest recesses of my psyche. But no, my actual 'resolution' is to try new things. (Though not necessarily perfumes, as mentioned. ;) )

This started before New Year indeed, when I popped to the corner shop for a half bottle of vodka. That's two firsts in one in fact: buying alcohol in a corner shop, and buying a half bottle of vodka. I have hardly ever bought vodka in my life. But what had happened was that I had succumbed to an impulse buy of a bottle of Diet Coke billed as having a hint of 'festive clementine'. Which had got me thinking about what mixers go with Coke, and vodka popped into my head. Not being a rum person. Or being a rum person, but not in the alcoholic way at least. So I had a vodka and coke with festive clementine, accessorised with a slice of clementine, one of many going slightly hard in the fruit bowl at the time, and looking for any role at this point.

Vodka, hot chilli jam, and a good book

So there was the vodka, plus I am also dabbling in herbal tea (which I hate!) to curtail my caffeine consumption after 4pm. It has only just come to my attention that caffeine has a tremendous half life of something like six hours, which may conceivably be one of the many factors for my poor sleep these days. So great is its half life in fact, that on closer inspection it must qualify as a double life nearly. I have settled on a blend of tea by Pukka called Womankind, which is not too sweet and not too swampy, but still not my thing. The packet is quite pleasing to the eye, but that is not enough even so to endear me to the category.

I have also had a bit of a late onset chutney epiphany - my friend's homemade chilli jam and one with rhubarb and I forget what else. I am experimenting with meditating too, but due to the aforementioned problematic sitting (see below), I may have to come back to that.

Back to my back

The main news to mention from the holiday period is the worsening of a long term niggling back problem: from Boxing Day the pain became more acute in that area, making sitting, standing or lying uncomfortable, which is clearly rather impractical! I have been to see an osteopath whose working diagnosis is a sprained ligament in my pelvis, though tests for other causes are ongoing via my GP. I did fall down stairs in a car park in November, and have done a lot of travelling in 2019 (driving to France and back, touring with the band, carrying luggage and gear and sitting in vans); then I've moved a lot of furniture (including a cast iron grate!), done a lot of housework and bed changing as a result of my venture into Airbnb, and additionally have a decidedly unsupportive office chair, a sporty car seat, a slightly saggy mattress, and a pair of favourite, but unevenly worn shoes that may have thrown my balance off a bit. The cause is probably the cumulative impact of all these so-called 'microtraumas'...

Foxy, but unforgiving...

To put matters right, I have ordered a proper office chair and am investigating a new mattress. My quest began with a little lie down on the Sleepmatch bed in Dreams - best three minutes of the entire holiday(!). It has rollers that come at you from below in unexpected ways, like a funfair machine or mechanical water bed - or like being nuzzled and munched by a recumbent alien wearing a fleecy stocking mask - incredibly sensuous and relaxing, let's just say. I'd have bought that bed if it was for sale. ;). Damn near fell asleep in the shop. You lie there staring at a screen on which pops up your name, a list of recommended mattresses, and how far you are along the firmness spectrum. Answer - hardly at all, which I knew anyway, given the state of my back, and my light weight. 

I didn't end up buying any of the recommended beds though, as the only one that was in my budget had just 800 pocket springs, and I was looking for a minimum of 1000. Still, it confirmed me in my belief that bad backs and firm ('orthopaedic') mattresses are not a match made in heaven, as people used to think.

The osteopath also told me to sleep with a cushion between my knees, a tip which has passed me by all these years, along with the half life of caffeine. Imagine my surprise to learn that the entire Sperrer family - young and older members alike! - have been sleeping like this for years. Here is Val's husband Chris striking the pose. No wonder they are in such tip top spinal health. While on the subject of spines, in German they are known as a 'Wirbelsaeule' ie a 'whirly column'. How much do I love that apt term for the pillar of our anatomy.

Val's husband in supported napping mode.

Book reading goal

I am in awe of Tara of A Bottled Rose's phenomenal reading rate - 50 books last year compared to my measly 12. Arguably, if I had spent more time reading and less time doing all those physical things I mentioned earlier, I might have spared my lumbar area as well as achieved a greater total, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. This year I am aiming for pelvic restoration and a reading tally of 18 books, kicking off the year with the hilarious and oddball "Reasons to be Cheerful" by Nina Stibbe. The first book I have ever come across that is written from the perspective of a dental assistant. Nina Stibbe has been compared to Sue Townsend - quintessentially British, with a fine line in observational humour. I can also thoroughly recommend "A Near Perfect Christmas" by her, with which I kicked off 2019.

As it happens, I recently had an excellent book buying spree in a couple of charity shops, and also received two books for Christmas. I decided to put them on my coffee table to encourage me to make my target this year. I expect there are a few more than 18 in that pile, but I might not take to all of them. And Middlemarch is probably too long to bother with when I am against the clock in this way(!). Plus I have read it already. Ditto To Kill a Mocking Bird, which is in there somewhere, but which I fancy rereading after 40 years or so.

Social media diet

Another way in which I might tip the odds towards reaching my reading goal is to spend less time in 2020 on social media. This encompasses the great vortex that is Facebook, plus Instagram and Twitter (though I hardly use the latter), also Whatsapp, text messages and emails. My virtual life has spiralled out of control lately and it is starting to get me down because of everything else I am not acccomplishing, including reading as I say, but also blogging itself(!). I have three email accounts and counted 37 named folders up to the end of 'D' on one of them. One or two are project or work folders, but the majority are people with whom I have had sufficient exchanges for them to warrant their own folder. I couldn't bring myself to tot up the rest of the alphabet or the folders in the other accounts, though there are fewer associated with those. Then I had 32 active conversations on Messenger going the last time I looked, and about 15 by text. Trying to keep up with it all is much like a fast paced game of Whac-a-Mole, and I don't mean that unkindly. There is never a sense of progress - you respond to one message or email and then another pops up, and then the first again. That constant sense of failure and of letting the people at the other end of these exchanges down by not replying in a timely manner is weighing on my conscience, and I will just have to take things more slowly and accept that I can't keep all the social media plates spinning...I shall probably also miss some people's birthdays and operations, new jobs and lost pets, but for the sake of my own mental health something really has to give.

On nurse duty again, picking up the slack from Ludlow the bear

A word on Truffle

In her comment on my last post, Undina expressed a wish for more news / pictures of Truffle. She is not bringing in mice at the moment, which is great, though doubtless a temporary truce for the holidays. She also pretty much left the decorations alone, though the tree is derisorily small in feline terms. However, she is proving a nuisance by refusing to eat her already rather expensive cat crunchies, favouring instead an even more high end brand called True Instinct, whose strapline ominously reads:

Suffice to say there's been a lot of instinctive desiring going on in this house, which I am trying not to overly indulge.

In her defence, Truffle has been quite loving and lain on me when I have been feeling poorly due to the bad back business, and also reminded me to go and feed my friend M's cat, which was thoughtful of her.

She has also enjoyed a lot of turkey and chicken - I roasted both over Christmas week, and made four lots of soup in all, one of which unsurprisingly involved fowl!

So how has your Christmas been, if it doesn't seem like aeons ago?

Not dogged by illness and with the optimum number of socialising units, I hope!

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Portraits of a Lady: 'Perfume Stories in Conversation' at Tate Liverpool, 19.12.19

First things first...yesterday's date is pleasingly symmetrical, if not exactly palindromic like the page views tally in my last post. Yet even had it not been symmetrical - never mind palindromic - yesterday was a hugely enjoyable day, for a number of coincidences occurred and paths were crossed, in unexpected ways. And this despite the fact that my day started preternaturally early again - in darkness, no less. Who knew that mornings can be like the middle of the night in December?? Too many years spent around musicians and their unsociable body clocks has given me an aversion - nay, allergy - to any hour earlier than 8.30am.

I got up at this time as I was due to attend a talk on perfume at John Moores University, which strangely doesn't have an apostrophe. I infer that this is because the university is merely named after the distinguished businessman in question who founded the Littlewoods retail chain and football pools, rather than being in any way 'possessed' by him.

I travelled on a pleasingly fast train to Liverpool operated by Avanti, which it took me till mid-afternoon to realise is the company who took over from Virgin the other week. It only stopped at Runcorn, and then sadly at the railway station, not half way across the famous wrought iron bridge so I could have taken a better picture. The bridge has several names, including 'Ethelfleda', which is so good I wish I at least had a chicken to call it after. Next week's (albeit dead) turkey may briefly acquire this moniker instead...

Now don't laugh, but I brought my A-Z of Liverpool with me, which dates from 1990, the year when I stayed at the Adelphi Hotel (of Onedin Line fame) and had the use of a company 'pool' mobile phone the size of a brick. I'll be honest, I navigated in the end using a combination of helpful tourist signage and the blue dot on Google maps, but it felt good to have the A-Z as back up. A bit like shopping with a wicker basket.

I arrived at Albert Dock a little early, and took a quick snap of this doughnut van with its transatlantic spelling and tempting offer of candyfloss and 'slush'. That's what you get I expect if you drop your candyfloss in the Mersey. Parked a little further on was a double decker London bus offering tea and coffee; an old telephone box next to it had been repurposed as a milk and sugar station. You don't get that sort of vintage charm in Starbucks, even if they do offer milk in different fat percentages.

The talk was held upstairs at Tate Liverpool, in a section of a big gallery space screened off by a curtain - not all the way, mind, so at various points during proceedings other visitors threw us a quizzical look as they were passing in their search for Dali's Lobster Telephone. I say 'search', as I am not sure that any of the 11 lobsters Dali made is in Liverpool anymore. My mobile phone from 1990 was not far off in size if not shape, now I think of it.

So, on to the event itself: Perfume Stories in Conversation (Alchemy, Olfaction and Synaesthesia), created and hosted by Michael O'Shaughnessy. Mike is Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design & Illustration at Liverpool School of Art & Design at John Moores University. He began his talk by playing a song by Barry White(!), which proved a good ice breaker, and was at pains to point out that perfume is about so much more than the art of seduction (despite what the glossy, gold-dipped adverts would tell us). He gave us a bit of background on his own academic research and commercial art, including several high profile commissions, such as a billboard featuring his own handwriting that formed the skin of the Everyman building.


The structure remained in place for 18 months, and miraculously didn't get 'tagged' in all that time by graffiti artists, which Mike attributed to his 'inclusive' use of cursive writing, which looked a bit like graffiti to start with. He adopted a similar approach on a project for Dong Energy, a Danish company which installed 32 wind turbines in Liverpool Bay, and his billboard with the caption "This Beautiful Place" was similarly left intact. Regular readers may recall that I am a big fan of wind farms, having done a project on glue in California, some of which is used to fix rattling nacelles, as the big 'gubbins housings' at the top are called.

To seal his credentials, Mike mentioned that he had in fact swum the Mersey, which impressed us all no end. So by this point I was definitely sold on Mike's handwriting and level of fitness, and we moved onto the key premise of his event, namely a "proposition of multi-sensory experience in Art":

"We experience drawing in the same way that smell can provide a trigger for memory and sensation. Scent invites us to recount and create new stories, sharing and revealing layers of experience." 

After romping through a few surprise facts about our sense of smell, including the one about it remaining when we are asleep (something the ex-firefighter in our group was able to confirm!), Mike presented us with a selection of evocative quotes about perfume from literature. One, from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, featured bitter almonds reminding a character in the book of the fate of unrequited love. It was a great quote, and reminded me in turn of my happily morbid teenage years engrossed in Agatha Christie novels, where death by the chemically closely related cyanide was a go-to MO. But better still, we also learnt that Mike had been commissioned to do a portrait of Marquez, whom he decided to dress as a fish, in a nod to another work by the author, in case you were wondering(!).

We had already started to discuss what scenes different scents and smells evoke in our minds, and at this point Mike passed around a blotter sprayed with Chanel Cuir de Russie. This was a rather spooky moment for me, as I had so nearly chosen Cuir de Russie as my SOTD - to the point of holding the mini in my hand for a moment or two before putting it back in the drawer - however, I ended up opting for the more public space-appropriate and sadly discontinued Guerlain Plus Que Jamais.

Mike also showed us a book he had had published on Perfume and Drawing: it comprised a series of portraits of ladies - mostly but not exclusively his niece, I think? - juxtaposed with a list of perfumes containing a particular fragrance material, followed by a literary quote. At this point Mike disclosed that A Portrait of a Lady, or PoaL as it is commonly known in the blogosphere, was his all-time favourite perfume! This happens to be the favourite of Val the Cookie Queen, who has kept me supplied with both PoaL and CdR. I have an abiding memory of Val lavishly applying PoaL in an underground car park in Augsburg, before we went into a Monochrome Set gig at a nearby club. So I guess I have a memory link between that fragrance and music and perfume friends. And although I am not sure it works on me, I am a big admirer of PoaL, which I first smelt not on skin, but sprayed on Katie Puckrik's pashmina, which she was using as the garment equivalent of a room diffuser. Another strong memory, this time linking the scent to perfume friends - and fabric!

Mike went on to tell us about workshops he had run with his art students, giving them perfumes to smell blind and seeing how they reacted and what specific associations they had with the scents. (He is a big pusher of perfume / evangelist, and I salute him for it.) We did a bit of that too and the reactions from our group to the perfume Mike had selected were all over the map, and not uniformly positive. One lady was reminded of the dentist, another had no particular associations but didn't care for it, while I could pick up fruity notes, but ones that had been spoilt or muddied by something indeterminate that might have been spices or herbs. I shan't say what the perfume was, or what it was meant to smell like, in case anyone gets the opportunity to attend one of Mike's workshops or talks, but let's just say it was pretty left field in its inspiration!

There was more...Mike mentioned a thought provoking quote by Siri Hustvedt, speaking of the artist Morandi. Oddly, I have just read The Summer Without Men by her - not to be confused with the iPhone application of the same name - and used to have a Morandi print over my bed two houses ago. I think ex-Mr Bonkers must have won custody of it. Mike also referenced Mikhail Bulgarov's Master & Margarita, which is sitting in one of my many tsundokus, as is the Marquez book indeed.

After the talk, which all of us didn't want to end(!), I repaired to the cafe with Mike and a lecturer colleague of his whose speciality is textiles and fashion, to carry on the conversation. I did take a full body photo of Mike during the talk, but he preferred this off-duty one in which he feels he comes across as more jolly. I told him that he looks a bit like my Graphic Design lecturer friend Simon - the one who lives on a narrow boat and finds room in his tiny fridge to store his perfumes - crossed with a more exuberant and charismatic version of Jeremy Corbyn. I added that Mike could give Jeremy lessons in being more animated / genial / zealous /generally 'up'. I don't suppose it would  have helped him win the election if he had also swum the Mersey, but JC definitely has a charm deficit, while Mike has it in spades. Like wind energy - and unlike perfume - charm can't readily be stored for someone else to use...

You may well ask how I came to hear of this event, and the short answer is through my indie singer songwriter friend Jessica - she of the enviably smooth and high forehead, and somewhat protracted but happily successful rose perfume quest. Jessica knows Mike, but the connection is more with a relative of hers from a long time ago. So that was another coincidence.

Anyway, I could have chatted to the pair all afternoon, but suddenly realised the time, and Mike said I would need to get a move on to stand a chance of catching my train. He had not reckoned with my ability to deploy high intensity spurts of scurrying, mind (my own version of HIIT training, if you will), and I made the train with ten minutes to spare, including a stop at a market stall to buy a pair of the cheapest and most badly made pyjamas on the planet. At £6 though you can't go wrong, even if you do end up spending more time snipping off the stray ends of cotton than sleeping.

On my way back I spied this curious sign for a 'Genting Casino'. I had no idea that 'genting' was a verb, and have a strong suspicion it has very little to do with the kind of behaviour I might consider 'gentlemanly'...

PS The concept of scent and synaesthesia took me back to the event hosted by Le Labo which I wrote up in a guest post on Cafleurbon, where they got us to feel different textiles and say which one went with a particular scent. I bet that is an exercise Mike's colleague would have been brilliant at!

A Rembrandt portrait, with bonus tantalising glimpses of M's desktop folders!