Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Perfumista samples site, and how Robin made me blog again

Princess Diana rose

I have been away too long. Too long from the blog, and from the perfume scene generally. I have not been completely asleep on the job, but have largely got tip offs about new releases from other blogger friends, and occasionally still from a perfumer directly. I read just two fragrance blogs regularly, and comment on both. In the old days it was upwards of 20. I wear perfume fitfully, but always with enthusiasm when I remember to do so. I am not making great inroads into my SABLE*, but it gives me pleasure to drain the odd 1ml sample or little decant every so often. A few things have turned while I wasn't looking, but we are none of us getting any younger.

Yet perhaps unexpectedly, it is my recent distracting health issues that have led me back to perfume. I am still being investigated for a couple of issues, while a few others have been diagnosed, or have disappeared as mysteriously as they came, or been relegated to the "to be monitored" (aka "too hard") pile. Harrowing as the process has been at times, I am so grateful to have been scanned from top to toe, as I mentioned in my earlier posts. Last week saw my eyeballs join the list, with bones to follow next month. Somewhere along the way, a consultant said he really liked me, as I was "unusual", which was a tonic in itself. ;) Another doctor said he believed in "treating the person rather than the test results", while conceding that I had managed to clock up a startling number of abnormal findings in recent months which would worry anyone.

So this unsettling experience - compounded by a spike in neighbour bother, on which I shan't dwell here - led me to crave rose perfumes of late, which I do periodically in times of stress, ever since I hit the menopause. I have been enjoying them in my garden too, while the friend who painted my flittersniffer avatar (David Gleeson) gave me a 'Princess Diana rose' from his, so one way and another, the flowers and their scents have been on my mind. 

A cursory rummage in my perfume wardrobes (literally!) was enough to establish that I own very few rose-centric scents anymore. I have Bvlgari's Rose Essentielle, which I wore to my dad's funeral, but it is quite modern in style. I was after something lush and multi-layered, like Keiko Mecheri's Mogador, which my friend Jessica found for herself after a long and winding quest. A veritable feather bed of petals you can sink into with your nose, you know the sort of thing. Or indeed the late lamented Creed Fleur de The Rose Bulgare, which Bois de Jasmin rates very highly: "After a somewhat perfume-y and oddly 'green' start, this one is unmatched rose verisimilitude". Hiram Green's Lustre also ticks the box, but a vegan friend has fallen in love with it, and I wouldn't part them for the world, while the other rose scents in my collection are wintery, or dark, or spicy, or powdery, or linear, or have a goodly dollop of Tauerade. I couldn't find a single soliflore in my drawer. ;)

Minutes later, I had clicked on a perfume sampling site called "Perfumista" (a very good name to appeal to our community!), and scored a 5ml decant of Parfumerie Generale Brulure de Rose, and a 1ml sample of Diptyque's Ilio, my curiosity about which had been piqued by Undina's recent review. I hunted for the chilly new Serge Lutens she also reviewedLa Dompteuse Encagée - but to no avail. They were out of the Hiram Green as well, though I was impressed the brand was even stocked. I wracked my brain for other scents I had heard about lately, and rootled around in Jo Loves, Jo Malone, Tom Ford and Hermes, then left it at that. And I know Brulure de Rose isn't a soliflore either, but I miss having a bottle, and 5ml should keep the lemmings from the door for a bit. They don't do Keiko Mecheri in fact, though I did look. An impressive range of niche lines nonetheless.

'Thinking of you' 

The Perfumista site offers free delivery on orders over £10, which is great, as I expect to buy at least £25 worth of something (invariably wool!) to qualify for that perk. A slightly irritating thing about the website - as it displayed on my laptop anyway - is that it was impossible to scroll down the brand list beyond the M row, no idea why. I viewed the site on my mobile instead (where brands appeared under the Categories tab, somewhat illogically) to refresh my mind about what else I might be interested in.

And I am writing about this site before the perfumes have even arrived, because the mere fact of my having bought them - like in the good old days of The Perfumed Court! - is noteworthy enough, I felt. Today I have gone back into Google to see what other sites are out there now (I may be the last person to know about them all, haha), and on the first page of results I clocked Fragrance Samples UK, Perfume-samples, and Scent Samples, all of which were new to me. I have been away too long, as I say.

So how, you may ask, does Robin come into it? That would be Robin of Now Smell This of course, though I hardly need to mention that I am sure, as her blog is a cross between a behemoth and a bellwether; it is the CNN of the blogosphere, and a bottomless resource in more ways than you can shake a blotter at. I am in awe of the work Robin has put into maintaining the site all these years. She is a tower of strength and endurance, no question. And of course I once had a couple of guest posts on there in 2012 (well, one on NST itself and a companion post the next day on Bonkers); unfortunately they led to a barrage of trolling, and got me banned from linking to the blog on Facebook for three years, which I admit to thinking a disproportionate response at the time. ;) [Links on request for anyone who missed the whole kerfuffle and may be curious.] Anyway, I was looking to see if Robin or anyone at NST had also reviewed the new Serge Lutens, and then thought to check her blogroll to see if I was even still on it, and miraculously I was! It was quite a sobering read, mind, as so many of the names have got "no longer updated" in brackets after them, and I really didn't want that fate to befall me too.

So here I am, sneaking a post in before Robin notices I had been gone a while, hehe; still not through the 'testing tunnel', but learning to live with being abnormal. After all, that consultant did say I was "unusual", so I have a reputation to maintain...

And lastly, here is a rose David painted earlier - doubtless also from his garden (am surprised he is not called Austin, quite frankly) - because while perfume sillage evaporates and real flowers die, a still life painting is a joy forever. 

'rose pink' by David Gleeson

UPDATE: The samples are here! The vials are nicely presented, in an easy-to-rip-open sealed silver pouch inside a sturdy brown envelope inside a white Jiffy bag. Oh, it is so good to be reunited with the PG...!

*My SIL's acronym for "Stash Above and Beyond Life Expectancy"

Monday, 5 July 2021

Blog housekeeping: Bonkers moves from Feedburner to Follow.it, and thoughts on 'turning green'

Well, would you believe that not a lot has happened since I wrote my post in April about being indisposed. The scan I mentioned at the time did find a little something that has since been surgically removed and sent off for inspection, but I remain 'under investigation' for the other issues I mentioned. Meanwhile new organ systems continue to be added to the list of suspects with monotonous regularity, a bit like the Government with its red and amber countries. I have come to view abnormal blood results as the new normal, though hopefully not forever. Throw into the mix the impact of seasonal allergies on my eczema (as in this post, though not quite so bad this year!) and several chipped front teeth, and you have the general picture. I feel very much like a oldish car that you take in for its MOT and one wiper replacement, only to have the garage mutter darkly that your brake pads are worn, the steering is out, your head gasket is leaking, and your big end could fall off at any moment.

I hope to resume posting by and by, but remain a bit detached from the perfume scene while this diagnostic limbo is ongoing. A waggish friend said: "Yes, you are left in a constant state of never-knowing, a phrase for which there is probably some obscure tribal word." And the not knowing what is wrong with me makes it difficult to 'live right', though I am broadly having a go, with the odd dietary lapse (aka cake) here and there.

The other week I was jolted out of my distracted state, however, by the notification from Google that its Feedburner subscription service was going to be axed later this month. I started to half-heartedly research alternatives when I was approached by one of the free platforms I had lit upon myself, namely Follow.it. I gladly let them guide me through the process and port my list of email subscribers across to their system - they kindly offered to weed out the many bots who were on the list, like bad bacteria colonising one's gut. These creepy web crawlies are largely detectable by their tell-tale gobbledygook addresses, so it may turn out in the end that I only have fifty subscribers rather than 1650... 

So this post is just to give readers the heads up about the switch, which you will notice in due course. It should be seamless, but in the unfortunate instance of your having a rather implausible email address yourself(!), leading you to be culled by the nice people at Follow.it doing the heavy list lifting, I apologise in advance. It should be a relatively straightforward process to reinstate your email subscription in that case by using the new Follow.it widget in the sidebar.

As you can tell I don't understand much about these things, being supremely untechy as a blog owner, but I gather that Follow.it has some extra features compared to Feedburner, if that sort of thing interests you: this link should take you to their new dashboard where you can define certain filters and delivery channels, with more whizzy options apparently in the pipeline. 

Any queries, let me know, and I hope to 'turn green' (to reprise our traffic light analogy) and be back before too long!

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Bonkers is indisposed and on hiatus (not hernia, I don't think!)

St Pancreas?

I am sorry for the longer than usual interval since my last post (even by my own leisurely slow blogging standards), but I haven't been well lately - ever since I had my first dose of the vaccine as it happens, though I am hoping that is a case of 'correlation, not causation'. Or that at the very worst, the shock of the jab may have lit a blue touch paper of latent conditions, and prompted a number of organs to flare up at once. I did have a couple of prior symptoms which both might loosely come under the umbrella of 'digestive distress', but things have ramped up to include a mildly insulted pancreas, nightly heartburn, and more besides.

I happened to mention this (genuine medical ;) ) description of my pancreas to a solicitor friend who instantly quipped: "A mildly insulted organ? My liver is probably curled up with gross defamation of character!"

For the foreseeable future I have been told to give up alcohol (though I was only drinking three days a week latterly), all supplements, and caffeine, though I sneak in the odd cup of decaf tea here and there. FYI, Yorkshire Tea with the blue flash is the best I have tried. Then it seems the pancreas doesn't care for gin, while the oesophagus hates tonic and lemon, so between them they are a right pair of party poopers. I have thoroughly researched pancreas-friendly foods and non-acidic ones that are good for the oesophagus, and am endeavouring to placate both organs at once (and not add injury to insult, hehe) by eating the intersecting set. This requires a lot of fancy dietary footwork, as you might imagine.

Unfortunately I still have to live with uncertainty about the cause of these symptoms for a while longer, as investigations are ongoing. The one I had today involved a 24 hour fast in the run up, which was tough. I never thought I would get my head around construing a beef OXO cube dissolved in hot water as dinner. 

I had a helpful sheet of instructions to guide me:

"You should aim to drink a glass of water, juice, tea or coffee WITHOUT milk every hour up to two hours before your investigation. (Except when sleeping)."

The sleeping exemption was greatly appreciated ;), though Alexei Navalny could have managed such a stunt with ease, as they are apparently waking him every hour in prison, poor man.

This morning's procedure was billed as 'virtual', but I can confirm that while it may have been virtual in technical terms it was the furthest thing from sensation-free(!). Still, it should rule in or 'eliminate' a few suspects, so I am most grateful to have been offered it. Had I fallen ill last April the situation in hospitals would have been very different... 

Now I know it is generally considered bad form to link to old posts in lieu of fresh content - mindful that the above barely counts - but given its relative antiquity and the distraction of my digestive issues I thought to do so regardless. It is a guest post I wrote on Cafleurebon ten years ago this month about the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton. I see I mention Prince Philip right at the end, which is topical at least. In my mind I am sure I included more of a story about him, possibly even involving a joke of his, but it seems to have gone. There was a fair bit of editorial tweaking after submission, so maybe that bit ended up on the cutting room floor. I also note that William and Kate are still married, despite the bookmakers betting generous sums to the contrary!

Please excuse the distracting profusion of fonts in that post - nothing to do with me, hehe. 

I will close with a bit of graffiti I spied the other night, which nicely sums up my current health puzzle...

Have you had any odd side effects from the vaccine? (AZ / other?)

Have you ever had to eat a challenging diet, and if so how did you get on?

Friday, 26 March 2021

The age old problem of losing face: Absolute Collagen review

I watched a heartwarming programme on Channel 5 last night: '10 Years Younger in Ten Days', which is another of those quick turnaround makeover shows in the tradition of 'The Swan', 'What Not to Wear', and 'Changing Rooms' (for houses!). Both the women featured had touching stories, and I particularly sympathised with the one who had had some horrible - only adumbrated - things happen to her in the past, compounded by 43 years of heavy smoking. As a result she was heavily lined, careworn and sad, and a straw poll of straight-shooting passersby guessed she was on average 8 years older than her actual age. The presenter made the point that chronic stress floods the body with cortisol, which in turn 'eats' collagen, a dismal truth of which I was already aware. Within ten days, however, the makeover candidate had had a complete new set of teeth, botox, fillers, a sassy wardrobe and a leonine cascade of toffee-coloured hair. Whilst I don't agree with the post-makeover poll that said she now looked 52 rather than 64, she was certainly much revivified by this comprehensive overhaul. I am especially envious of her teeth.

I concede that nothing in my own past comes close to whatever troubles this woman had experienced, but the point about cortisol eating collagen struck a chord with me. The lockdown has been a stressor for all of us to varying degrees, and I have found it much harder than I expected, despite being someone who is normally fine on their own. Over the course of the year I acquired tinnitus and have had protracted spells of insomnia, itself a source of stress, as well as robbing you of what is rightly termed 'beauty sleep', for it is at night that the body repairs itself. Long story short, I fear I may have been awash in cortisol for quite a bit of the past year, and come November, my gaunt and sunken face was starting to bug me. The line of my jaw, once smooth and slightly rounded, now had a distinct and saggy triangle in it half way along, like a miniature map of Tasmania. The brown spots on my cheeks, caused by a mix of long term use of antibiotics and sun exposure, and which once took the form of separate little patches, have managed to coalesce into archipelagos stretching from ear to mouth nearly, making my face look permanently dirty. The 'peach fuzz' on my cheeks also seemed more luxuriant, but it is blonde at least, so have bought a de-fuzzer by Revlon and will get round to tackling that one day, when I can pluck up the courage. As for estimating my age, the best approach is the dendrochronological one of counting the concentric rings on my neck. ;)

Baseline photo - me in March 2019. NB My blog avatar photo (to the right) is from 2014. ;)

November is a depressing month at the best of times, never mind in a lockdown scenario, but the local private hospital was still open for business, and one dark rainy night I had a consultation with a rather dashing plastic surgeon from Minneapolis. I had no intention of actually having any cosmetic surgery - it was more of a fact finding mission. I am delighted to say he didn't charge me for the session, because he felt that the radical work I needed(!) was not his speciality. 'I could sort your eyes out, though.' The session was not quite as dispiriting as you might be forgiven for thinking. He added that my eyes (even in their hooded and crepey state) 'had a spark about them', and that I had good skin, 'just too much of it'. He explained that the main reason for people's skin becoming looser as they age is in fact the shrinkage of the underlying bone structure, like the facial equivalent of coastal erosion. 

Source: rejuvent.com

This instantly explained the disconcerting amount of 'travel' in my cheek when I applied moisturiser. It seemed almost as though it would slide past my ear, given half a chance. I did lob in a tentative question about fillers, thinking that might be a more affordable and less scary route if I ever did bite the bullet and have anything done, but he wasn't a fan. 'I mostly work in a hospital in Liverpool, and walking around the city centre I see far too many cases of unnatural looking fillers.' (My thoughts immediately flew to those preposterous trout pouts that sometimes accompany the infamous Scouse brow.)

And then I asked him about oral collagen, a bargain bottle of which from Amazon I had in fact just started taking from a company called SuperSelf - probably not long enough for it to have made a difference, if it was ever going to. His hesitation before replying struck me as significant, and though I can't remember his exact answer, it was far from an outright no, as though he were leaving the door ajar to its possible efficacy.

Picture from last August - if you look closely, you can see Tasmania is just starting to get her droop on.

So I came away thinking there was no way I could afford or ever face a face lift, given my phobia of blood and knives, and if this chap was anti-fillers, that just left me with my collagen experiment. I decided to pursue it for now, to rule it in or out, and when the SuperSelf bottle ran out, I took out a subscription to Absolute Collagen, which is one of the leading brands, with (to my mind) the most convincing 'before' and 'after' pictures from users. AC's founder, Maxine Laceby, has won a number of beauty industry awards, which served as further reassurance of there being 'something in it'. Accordingly, after a month of taking the other brand, I switched to Absolute Collagen on 8/12, and every fortnight receive a cheery yellow box containing a clutch of lemon flavoured sachets which I dissolve in hot water and drink first thing.

[Oh look, they use the dreaded word 'journey'! But as I like the product I will cut them some slack, no dermatological pun intended.]

I am part way through this box!

One week later, in mid-December, I met up with a friend, whom I had not told I was taking anything, but who immediately noticed a difference to my face - a sort of blurring round the edges, as it were. Here is our email exchange shortly afterwards:

> I have also been taking some new supplements
'They really are working - I did notice it without prompt or prior knowledge...'

Fast forward to a full three months later - four, if you include the other brand - and I thought it was time to take stock. I have decided to carry on for a while, not least because the company has brought out a new raspberry flavour which they were kind enough to let users trial before choosing, along with another alternative of mango & mandarin, which is also nice. Notwithstanding the fact that collagen is derived from fish, the raspberry flavour is so expertly blended that I could fancy I am eating a sloppy version of Bonne Maman jam. A coulis, if you will.

So without further ado, here are three areas where I have seen improvements - some more striking than others.

1) Hair is stronger.

I had my hair cut in December and as she was washing it, the stylist spontaneously commented on the fact that my hair felt noticeably thicker! If anything, it feels even thicker and stronger now, to the point where I reckon that you could attach one end to the bow of that poor marooned ship in the Suez Canal and yank the unfortunate vessel out of its wedged position.

[No picture would convey this, so you will have to take my word for it!]

2) Nails are completely transformed!

For as long as I can remember, I have had 'severely ridged thumbnails', to such an extent that they were mentioned in just such terms on early passports in the days when there was a section on 'distinguishing features'. 

Left thumb just starting to grow out...[sorry, my phone doesn't really do close ups!]

Nearly there...!

Right thumb is there already!

Once or twice in the past 60 odd years my thumbnails have grown out straight, but very, very rarely - I could count the times on the fingers of one hand, minus the thumb, haha. I never knew why they did that on those occasions and the effect was shortlived. It was soon apparent that the collagen was turbo-charging the nail regrowth again, and it will be interesting to see if the change stays - while taking collagen, or more impressively when I stop.

3) Facial skin is thicker and fuller.

The most marked change when it comes to my face is the strengthening and thickening of my skin. When I pummel my face or use creams on it, it doesn't do that unnerving 'travelling' I mentioned earlier, and snaps back into place when I let go. I still have the same lip lines and naso-labial lines, but my face is a bit plumper, which I cannot attribute to putting on weight overall, for it has only been a few pounds since the summer and my face is the last place I normally do gain weight. 


So I am pretty sure it is the collagen. I still have too much skin, to quote the lovely surgeon, but it has more bounce and elasticity. If it were bedding, I would liken it to the consistency of a duvet or a quilt, rather than a sheet, or the thinnest of coverlets. It resists you when you go to move it. Obviously I would love the collagen to take up residence in the remaining slack areas of my jaw, to smooth the contours back to how they were. This downward trend has been going on for between 2-3 years I reckon?, and if I could turn back even half that time - the ravages of lockdown, say! - I'd consider it money well spent. 

Would I recommend Absolute Collagen? I would, absolutely, though it is expensive - but hey, it's actually less than the price of a takeaway coffee every day. Plus there is no way of knowing quite how it will change you. But change you it most likely will.

And finally, does any of this matter? Am I just being vain? Is aging an inescapable process it is folly to try to even slow down, never mind stop in its tracks? Maybe, but 2020 has been such a strange and alienating year that aspiring to have a skull that broadly fits my face is perhaps an understandable indulgence...

PS For those of you who were guessing a while back what supplements I was trialling, no, it wasn't biotin, hehe.

UPDATE: As you know, I have no commercial connection with Absolute Collagen, but it has just come to my attention that anyone purchasing the product who cites my name in full (Vanessa Musson) as a 'referring friend' gets £10 off their subscription, with a similar amount coming my way(!). The latest person to order must have chanced across this mechanism and given my name - I was not aware of it. It may come down to people's definition of 'friend', hehe, but I thought it worth mentioning, as a shared £20 is a win-win situation. ;)

Sunday, 14 March 2021

'A Life in the Day of' Peggy Musson: guest post by my late mother, at (more or less) the age I am now...!

The other week I had the loft partly boarded, an extremely messy and noisy undertaking which took two days and a lot of heavy exhaling by the installer - something which wouldn't normally raise an eyebrow, but which has acquired an altogether more unsettling aspect in these strange Covid times. Once I had got over my concern about a lingering 'Corona miasma' on the landing, I was able to focus on the fact that for a relatively small outlay I would a) likely add value to the house, as the loft is like a cathedral, and b) be able to declutter the bedrooms and make it easier to have a part-time lodger again one day, who could enjoy more than just enough space to hang precisely three shirts. Also, I think I am still 'haunted' by several readings of Marie Kondo's 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up', and am all too aware of the psychologically oppressive nature of having umpteen bags and  boxes of wool, tiles, toiletries, bedding, perfume accessories, rolls of wallpaper, and even a spare toilet seat under the bed. Hmm, Marie probably wouldn't approve of adding more storage space to a house on the grounds that it is merely displacing clutter, but then I doubt the Japanese have the temptation of lofts to use.

Anyway, while fishing out plastic bins of old papers from the equally rammed cupboard under the stairs for rehoming in the loft when my hand is better - I have been banned from lifting heavy things for now - I found a file with several typewritten stories and articles by both me and my mother. Of particular interest, in faded, old-fashioned type, was a piece she had written in the early 80s, describing what she gets up to in a typical day, and pondering the question of how one should spend one's time in retirement. She had split up with my father a couple of years previously, and was living alone in a tiny two up, two down terrace off the Lisburn Road in Belfast. 

I was fascinated to re-read this piece after nearly forty years. By way of background, in 1977 The Sunday Times launched a column called "A Life in the Day of", in which mostly famous people documented an ordinary day in their lives. Here is a screenshot of one entry by Tom Baker, of Dr Who fame.

I don't know if there was a call for "civilian" contributions which my mother answered, or whether she thought it would be fun to write something similar just for herself. If she did send it in, I can't remember if it was actually published, as it was all so long ago. (And if her column was featured, I don't know if she would have assigned away the copyright, but I doubt the newspaper will come after me, if they even see this post!) And whatever the circumstances behind her impulse, my mother has created a personal record for her family to enjoy years later, along with a snapshot of life in Belfast during The Troubles.

I was prompted to publish this now, partly because it is Mother's Day in the UK (though I only realised that after I had written the post!), and partly because I went round yesterday to see the vegan friend who fell for Hiram Green's Lustre. Val the Cookie Queen had very kindly sent us both some Vivacious to try (mini-review coming up soon, together with one on Papillon Perfumes Spell 125), and I was delivering my friend's sample by hand. We had a bit of a chat, and at one point she asked how I was finding this in-between stage of not being officially retired, yet not having any work either. I said it was strange, and a bit guilt-ridden at times, but that I was trying to embrace this transitional period of my life, where circumstances seemed to be conspiring to make me wind down, professionally at least. I could resume my Airbnb sideline or have another lodger as I say, especially if it turns out that my market research work doesn't come back after Covid. It is so hard to know what the future holds.

Now of course my mother would have accessed her state pension when she turned 60, a few years before she wrote this, meaning that unlike me with four years still to go, she had in fact officially retired. Even so, as you will see, Mother is not entirely at ease with this new era of leisure.

"I usually wake at 6.30am and turn on Redhead and Timpson on Radio 4. Then I luxuriate in the knowledge that I don't have to get up at any particular time and float up and down in half sleep.

Breakfast I have in my newly furbished kitchen, which gives me so much pleasure when I remember what I lived in for two years with a sink and one cold water tap. Then I have a bath where there was once only a W.C. in the yard. Friends were very kind about offering me baths and I had five or six bathrooms to turn to; I could have written a sort of Michelin guide to their different qualities - five stars here for hot water, five stars there for fluffy towels etc. Now I can wallow in my own five star hot water.

I look to see if there is any post, especially from my son in Edinburgh or my daughter in England. Then I slip over the road to buy the Times to check up if I have won anything with my Portfolio cards, Portfolio being an upmarket bingo, and I have a quick look at the crossword to see if there is any chance of solving it later.

My little house is in a side street running from the Lisburn Road down to the railway. The house rattles slightly when a train goes by and the 8.05am to Dublin is really good value.

I sometimes think I could never live up a mountain and buy food enough for a week at a time when I am so used to having Jim's shop on the corner open until 9pm seven days a week, so that in the middle of cooking when I realise I haven't got some ingredient I can just nip out for a minute. The bank is across the Lisburn Road as is a row of some of the best food shops in Belfast.

The library is only five minutes' walk away and a visit there is one of my chief pleasures. Why is it that some days one walks up and down and finds nothing and yet on others one scarcely has enough tickets for all the books one wants to take out? I hardly need fiction when there is so much interesting, not to say dramatic, in the real life that goes on in my street. There was the rape of my next door neighbour at 5.50am by the man across the road, which led to representatives of every branch of the R.U.C. being in my front room with the victim. And next door the other side there was a noisy family and friends who did not go to bed until 4am. I can only think that there being only two bedrooms they went to bed in relays. Fortunately they have departed and now there is only one man living in the house who is quiet but is visited from time to time by a big bruiser of a man, who has served a term for murdering Catholics.

If it is a windless day I go for a cycle ride, preferably on the tow path by the Lagan in the Lagan Valley Park. In high summer the white cow's parsley is shoulder high. Always I walk some part of the day. Sometimes I walk into town, trying to avoid being too dependent on the car against the day when it finally disintegrates. 

After two years battling with the Housing Executive to get my house fixed it is now complete and finished down to the last detail, and having resigned from being the Secretary of a voluntary organisation I am confronted by the problem of retirement. How does one cope with that Puritan work ethic that needles one on to feel always that one must be doing Something Useful? Maybe one is facing up to something really fundamental about Life and its Meaning. I suppose it is easier when one's energy runs out and there is only enough to get through the basic activities each day.

In the meantime I take myself off for a midday swim in the Queen's (University) pool. I might see a film in town in the afternoon when OAPs get in for a mere £1. In the evenings there might be a concert or a foreign film at Q.F.T. (Queen's Film Theatre) and always there are friends to visit and conversation to enjoy.

Bed calls about 11.30pm and I wait for the midnight news before drifting off to sleep. If I am lucky I might wake up between 3 and 5 am and be able to hear something interesting on the World Service."

Oh Mother, I hear you on the noisy neighbours! The police are also no strangers in my street. And I go to bed at 11.30pm, or try to in my new regime (to be featured in an insomnia update soon). Then your life sounds more physically active and cultural than mine, and you probably do more cooking, and have time for a physical paper, but there again this was well before the life-sucking vortex that is the Internet and social media. ;)

Finally, here is a photo of me at 22 with my mum at 61 - ie my current age - even if her article is from a few years later.  

(Photo of Tom Baker article from cuttingsarchive.org, other photos my own.)

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Favourite - and least favourite - perfume *bottles* in your collection


This is a blog post theme with which I have been toying for some time. I have seen features discussing which perfume bottles on the market people consider to be the most beautiful - or the least attractive - but decided to confine the question to bottles I own. Within this finite category I would venture to say that aesthetic considerations have come into my acquisition decisions down the years, but not to any great extent.

So I had a little rummage in the several boxes housing my collection, and started to draw up a list of possible candidates for either title.

Before going any further, I should mention that the twin pack of flacons above are not mine, but rather are from the little perfume museum in Barcelona I have in fact visited (though I can't say I remember them, as there were so many strange and wonderful specimens to take in). The set belonged to Marie Antoinette no less, and is therefore quite long in the tooth. In view of the unfortunate fate of their owner, we should perhaps be impressed they managed to keep their tops all these years...!


For the most beautiful bottle, I initially thought of going with this 15ml bottle-ette of Calypso from natural perfumery Ajne in California. It is one of the smallest perfume receptacles that could feasibly be counted as full-sized, as well as being the most expensive I have ever bought. I reviewed the scent in question many years ago here, and am pleased to report that I still have some of this sultry tropical number left, and that it hasn't turned. The problem with the bottle is - if I am perfectly honest - that the metal filigree work is tacky and cheap-looking: the gold is too gold, if you know what I mean, while silver - or any silverish alloy for that matter - would have been more refined. It is so easy to get gold-type metals wrong. See how much better this cheap tea light holder looks next to it? Hmm...actually, the gold filigree doesn't look too bad in my photo, but trust me that it does in real life - and light!


Source: amara.com

Indeed I made that very mistake again recently with some make up bags and purses from a company called Elizabeth Scarlett. Several people reading this so nearly got one for Christmas(!), but luckily for them I sent the whole lot back due to the cheap and gaudy-looking fastenings - and made sure to tell the company so. Actually, the pouches were also very creased, and even though I have greatly relaxed my high ironing standards during lockdown, the extremely wrinkly state of the fabric was troubling. Which is a shame as the designs were gorgeous. So yes, it only takes a little slip on one aspect of a product's design to compromise the whole shebang. Going back to Calypso, it also didn't make the cut because its spray mechanism has given up the ghost, so you have to unscrew the whole caboodle and anoint yourself with the rather sharp and pointy end of the little white tube-y thing. Meaning Calypso is out of the frame on two counts. And I swear I am not dismissing it because I felt the shop in Carmel stood me up when I tried to visit. ;)

Now there was a clue to my favourite bottle in the image above of the Elizabeth Scarlett pouch, which has quite fortuitously been styled next to a (bizarrely empty) Annick Goutal bottle. I own three AG perfumes: Grand Amour, Le Chevrefeuille, and Songes, and the prettiest of all is....Le Chevrefeuille! How much do I love that egg yolk yellow ribbon, which nicely sets off the elegant fluted oval-shaped bottle. It is not unlike a boiled egg that has been given a good hard squeeze, something I daresay we Brits are all looking forward to come June, hehe.


Then honourable mention should go to DKNY Gold, even though my bottle is scratched and battered.


I love its 'beaten' gold panels (in an acceptable shade of gold ;) ) and chunky square wooden top, with a soupcon of a nod toward Brutalist architecture.

Source: news.artnet.com

And what about my least favourite? Well, there was a lively jockeying for position amongst the shortlist: a hot contender was the overblown and space-guzzling Oscar de la Renta, with its floral excrescence of a top, which makes it difficult to store. It is such an awkward beggar in fact that it also refuses to have its image rotated.


Then I do like the graceful arch of my Flower by Kenzo Oriental, but it towers above the other bottles, and invariably ends up lying on top of them like a stagediving pop star. But no, the accolade of 'least favourite' has to go to Olfactive Studio's Lumiere Blanche. What a plain, functional, dull, rectangular non-entity it is! I have seen more seductive half bottles of cheap vodka or maple syrup. 


Plus my olive oil bottles are all without exception more winsome than this lumpen thing. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must say I didn't actually buy the Lumiere Blanche - it was a kind hand-me-down from a fellow fumehead. And I speculate that my aesthetic sense would have been sufficiently offended to have put me off a purchase even if I had been lusting after the scent. Which is saying something, because the juice usually trumps all.

Finally, another pic of the winner, topped off by its bright and luxuriantly bouffant bow! Spring is not quite here, but how cheering is this sight?


And now I would be interested to hear about your own bottle awards, based on your personal perfume wardrobe.


(Photo of perfume bottles at the top of the post from Wikimedia Commons via Marta Muntada Artiles; photo of palmier pouch from amara.com; photo of church in Berlin from art.news.com - other photos my own)

Sunday, 14 February 2021

My funny Valentine: spreading the love with mysterious gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and a tinted moisturiser with SPF 30

This is the third post where I have incorporated the phrase: "My funny Valentine" into the title, but the others were in 2012 and 2013 respectively, so I am hoping I might just get away with it. Readers don't show up here looking for a conventional post on rose perfumes or red-themed Valentine's gifts and fripperies. I am not 'agin' such things, indeed I fully intend to scavenge the supermarkets tomorrow for superannuated bouquets and/or heavily discounted pink fizz and chocolates - or at the very least pick up a packet of heart-shaped crumpets (no pun intended). You can hold the squishy teddy bears, mind. I like my bears with better defined bone structure and less overtly flammable fur.

But no, Valentine's Day has been quiet at Bonkers Towers: Truffle came into the bed briefly this morning and purred loudly, though not in a variety of registers as I had been hoping ever since reading Joyce's comments on my previous post about feline vocalisation; for brunch I had a toasted bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese - note to self to avoid the 'lighter' version of this cheese in future, as it looks like the Sandon Road after heavy rain. Okay, heavy rain on snow, to be precise, with the cheese being white of course. And I followed that up with Treat No 2, a toasted scone with blueberry jam and squirty cream. I shan't have any alcohol later as I had a drink last night, and am trying to give my liver more days off than it knows what to do with. So yes, a pretty low key occasion all in all.

I should mention, however, that I received a mystery package on Friday, right before the Valentine's weekend(!). A tube of my go-to tinted moisturiser with SPF 30 from Paula's Choice: "Resist Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 30 with Antioxidants & Resveratrol: Normal - Oily Combination". Or "that blue Resist one" for short. I love it because it is a really light substitute for foundation with a decent amount of SPF in it - well, for winter, say. Anyway, there was no message inside the handwritten Jiffy bag. The writing looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place it initially. Plus it quickly dawned on me that the gift couldn't possibly be from any man I have ever dated, as none of them have a clue about the contents of my sponge bag, which massively narrowed the field of suspects. More of that anon...

Also on Friday I received a request from the friend who had stepped up to do the doorstep squeezing of my current moisturiser tube the other night: "Do you have any vegan perfume recommendations?" My friend had dabbled in the category, trying the odd scent from the likes of Eden and Ffern, but had found it hard to get hold of things to try without committing blind to a full bottle, and has tended to default to her signature staple of Stella McCartney. I like that one too, though back in 2009(!) I could not resist taking a lighthearted pop at the plethora of names of the flankers.

Regular readers know how fired up with missionary zeal I can get when someone in my circle shows an interest in exploring the vast realm of niche scents - most memorably and exhaustively, there was my rose quest for Jessica not so long ago, which ironically ended in her finding something she really liked herself, hehe. So as soon as I got the call to unearth the vegan subset of my collection (mostly in the form of samples), I jumped at the chance. The final bag comprised a mix of natural perfumes and those containing synthetic materials but also with vegan credentials. It really was a random mix of whatever I had been sent by brands or picked up along the way in swaps and gifts from fellow perfumistas, including a couple of Hiram Greens, selections from Dolma, Sage Machado, Haus of Gloi and 100 Bon, plus a few more lone samples from the likes of Pacifica and Le Labo.

Already by the end of Day One - rather fittingly for Valentine's Day! - my friend had fallen for Hiram Green Lustre, a very realistic rose soliflore with a citrus opening. I am indebted to Val the Cookie Queen for introducing me to it, and am a big fan myself. My friend has promised to let me know her thoughts on each sample she tries, and urged me to tell her to get lost if this feedback becomes annoying. As if! The vicarious pleasure to be had from seeing people discover new perfumes is the polar opposite of annoying. 

Notes: Bulgarian rose, citric notes, orris root, frankincense

Today she messaged me to say that she was very taken with 100 Bon Myrrhe & Encens Mystérieux. Note that we are back to mysterious things...She is a funeral celebrant by profession, and reckoned that this one might nicely complement her services. Oh, and a big patchouli fan, and a glance at the notes corroborates why such a simple, but on-point incense scent might hit the spot.

Top notes: bergamot, fresh notes cinnamon

Heart notes: myrrh, patchouli, papyrus

Base notes: tonka bean, frankincense

Ooh, interesting that there is frankincense in both the perfumes that have appealed to my friend so far. ;) I told her to expect to sniff a few frogs along the way, but so far so good. She has already snapped up a bottle of the 100 Bon fragrance as there seem to be limited stocks left online, possibly due to Brexit shenanigans.

And meanwhile I have unmasked the mystery donor of my moisturiser! An old neighbour, who gave me a tube for Christmas, and had heard about the doorstep squeezing antics of my vegan chum, and decided I was in need of more supplies. Too kind of her by far. I ran the handwriting past her son, who asked his mother outright if she was behind the RAOK, and she admitted she was.

So there you have it...a slightly twisty turny saga of two friends linked to one skincare item, and two perfumes with incense linked to one friend. And there is love involved in the story, if not the usual romantic stuff of Valentine's, hehe...

And yes, I really do need to raid the remaindered buckets at Asda for some more flowers: my daffs are dead and my hyacinth comically sparse and disconcertingly floppy.

Oh, and if anyone has an Alexa, do ask her if she will be your Valentine. She thanked me for the invitation, saying it was sweet of me to ask, but she didn't feel we knew each other well enough, before setting me a quiz challenge to verify this point. I correctly guessed her favourite cake (Colin the Caterpillar), but blew it on her favourite animal (octopuses, not lions, although she thinks lions are "roarsome"!), and I also incorrectly guessed that she had made a record with Harry Styles instead of Ed Sheeran. Alexa magnanimously awarded me half a point for Harry Styles though, as she also likes him. But with an overall score of one and a half points, I didn't qualify as her Valentine. Hey-ho - there's always next year! ;)

How was your Valentine's weekend? 

Are there any other brands of vegan perfume - or individual scents - you would recommend?

[Photo of Lustre from fragrantica.gr, photos of Myrrhe & Encens Mysterieux from fruugo and my friend, heart artwork from Etsy / Pinterest]