Thursday, 25 November 2021

Gillie Nicholls Open House Pottery Sale: 26/11 to 28/11/21 (also featuring my Runraglan Knits!)


This is an even more off-topic post than usual, which is saying something, but on the off-chance that this might reach anyone who might be interested and live within striking distance of Stafford, I wanted to mention an upcoming "Black Friday (Weekend)" event. For my good friend Gillie Nicholls (singer, songwriter, potter and sculptor) is holding an Open House from Friday to Sunday of this week. She will be selling a wide selection of her hand thrown pottery, and I will be peddling my knitted wares. The weather is getting colder, so their time has come!, plus they also would make ideal Christmas presents. The details are in the poster, but in case they are a bit small to read, here they are again:

Friday Nov 26th: 4-8pm

Saturday Nov 27th: 10-4pm

Sunday Nov 28th 10-4pm

30, Victoria Terrace, Stafford ST16 3HA

Tel: 07817 550360



By way of further enticement, there will be tea and coffee and homemade treats. ;) After the long gloom of the pandemic, the weekend will also be a welcome opportunity to catch up with friends and neighbours - or any perfumistas out there who'd like to come along and say hello!

There are more examples of Gillie's work on her website, (including her sculpture of my head), while further photos of my knitted items may be found on my Runraglan Knits Facebook page.


Gillie's idea of a "selfie" ;)







Monday, 22 November 2021

MAC Pro Palette Eyeshadow: It's Satin Taupe, but is it really green?

Source: eBay (I forgot to photograph mine!)

People who know me well will tell you that I have a hard time making decisions. A classic example of this is in a restaurant, where I will be overwhelmed by option anxiety and feel compelled to ask at least one question of the wait staff. This is to ensure I know exactly what I am ordering, and to pre-empt the feeling of "diner's remorse" that inevitably comes from eyeing "the dish not taken" that your friend ordered instead (to come over all Robert Frost for a moment). Last Saturday, at a meal in a primarily pizza restaurant, my question concerned the presence of raw onion, which I feared might be found nestling surreptitiously in a mound of Puy lentils in the salad I was considering - but was assured to the contrary. As I may have said before, I have even been known to inquire what exactly "Mushrooms on Toast" consists of, to be greeted by a blank look from the waitress and the laconic response: "Mushrooms and two bits of toast".

But in complete contrast to my usual MO of dithering and doubt, if someone were to ask me what colour eyeshadow I was going to buy next, I would have no problems at all defaulting to my favourite shade of all time, MAC Frost Satin Taupe. (See how I managed to sneak in another frost reference? We had some on the ground today, as it happens.) Satin Taupe was also a staple of the late, great blogger The Non-Blonde, and would be my desert island eyeshadow in the unlikely event of ever being forced to restrict myself to one. Even given unlimited choice, I probably wouldn't wish to own more than four shades: a taupe, grey, green and mauve would cover it. That is such a rare phenomenon for me with a beauty category, when you think how promiscuous I have been with perfume and lipsticks, and even skincare.

I was prompted to rebuy my beloved MAC eyeshadow owing to a recent bout of eye eczema, that I thought might have been triggered by either the eyeshadow or several possible mascaras being a bit long in the tooth, to be polite about it. Though it is so hard to know, as there are frankly irritants at every turn. Plus I am known for really pushing the envelope when it comes to using make up and toiletries generally well beyond their use by dates, which may not be doing me any favours.

So I went searching for a replacement online - not living anywhere near a MAC store - and landed on the website of Selfridge's, which offered to deliver for the princely sum of a fiver. And the exact product I lit upon was called "Pro Palette", which didn't compute with me, but the photograph showed a traditional eyeshadow pot just like the one I had, so I wasn't unduly concerned. But alongside the pot it also showed a picture of a flat square card form of packaging with a hole in it, which was puzzling, much like the name. The cost was £10, a bit less than I expected to pay, but of course the delivery bumped it up to £15.


Lean and mean packaging - my card minus the pan!

Interestingly, I have just performed the identical search in Bing and cannot fetch up the particular combination of images I just described, but I swear that is what I saw right before I clicked on "Buy". So you can imagine my surprise when what arrived was a very shallow disk inside this little square card - not unlike the presentation of Serge Lutens wax perfumes if anyone remembers those? It quickly dawned on me that I had in fact bought some kind of refill, not a new pot after all - but a refill for what?? I thoroughly examined my existing pot and couldn't see an easy way to relase the old pan and insert the new. There was no button to press or catch to release, for example(!), so it was not at all obvious how I would get the old suspect one out to replace with my hygienic new purchase. But there was also no practical way I could use this little sliver of an eyeshadow in its loose state - it was about the size and thickness of an old florin.

There was nothing for it but to get out my trusty little penknife - won in a particularly high end kind of cracker, and now about to have its moment - and prise the darn thing out. It did eventually shift, so I gave the plastic housing a good wash and slipped the refill in with no further problems. Having carried out a new Internet search out of interest, I see you can mix and match these little pan refills and place them in a new black plastic palette you buy separately for this very purpose. Who knew? It certainly wasn't clear based on the search that I made that the refill was NOT intended to go in the old style single shade round pot. And hey, I actually thought I was buying the pot in the first place!


Ta-dah! New refill finally wrangled into old pot

The penny also dropped that this move towards supplying refills will have been prompted by a desire to save on packaging on environmental grounds. All very commendable. Which explains why I was most surprised to learn that this slip of a product had been delivered in my absence to a neighbour. Why ever would it not have fitted through my letter box? This is why...and there was even more paper wadding than pictured - of the stretchy white concertina variety. Oh Selfridge's, how absurd is that?! They may think they have to justify their £5 delivery charge by putting the little card in the biggest box they need to to trigger a higher postal charge. When it would of course fit into a slim Jiffy bag / large letter at the very worst. So a big black mark to the store for their choice of box, notwithstanding its fetching yellow insides, for this all but undoes the good work of MAC with its refills.




Long term readers may recall that I have included this very issue of "bombastically big boxes" in my Scent Crimes series in relation to perfume packages, but it does of course apply to any kind of product.

But anyway, despite the confusion and extensive washing and knife work involved, topped off by disappointment at the disproportionate amount of packaging, I am still very glad to be reunited with good old Satin Taupe in a new condition that shouldn't trigger my eczema. And I was wearing it in fact at the weekend, at the restaurant where I inquired about the onion...


Source: MAC (an actual Pro Palette!)


If you could only have one eyeshadow, what would it be?

Monday, 25 October 2021

Bonkers is 12 today!

Source: Flickr


As regular readers know, I very rarely mark the occasion of my blog anniversary on the actual date. Days often go by before I remember, sometimes running into weeks, assuming I even do. On a whim I took a look just now at my very first post and read something else I had forgotten, namely that my intense and obsessive interest in perfume when I first fell down the rabbit hole was sparked by a phase of my thyroid being overactive, even though my diagnosis is of "underactive" thyroid. The thing is that if you accidentally overmedicate the condition, which is all too easy to do, it is like taking speed, hehe, and you can be prone to frenetic bursts of activity and bouts of insomnia. Coincidentally, I am coming out of such a phase again now - which has unfortunately contributed to my newly discovered osteoporosis, but there's no point crying over a surfeit of trabecular bone perforations. I did this by gradually lowering the dose of my medication (you do need to keep an eye on that, especially as you get older or add other drugs into the mix). However, even when I was at the peak of being in "manic mode" lately, I can report that this did not translate into a renewed compulsion to test every new perfume that moved. ;)

But I do still love the stuff, and am currently helping a friend to find a new signature scent, or better still, a perfume to start off her fragrance wardrobe, a concept I was keen to impress upon her as "the only true way". Moreover, yesterday I nearly met a perfumer in The Cotswolds, who is a friend of an old friend with whom I was spending the weekend, though it didn't work out in the end. This Person of Interest is involved in all sorts of fragrance-related projects, and is bound to know a lot of the usual suspects on the scene, so I would love to chew the cud with her one day.

In another surprise turn of events, I have been wearing Puredistance Rubikona for at least a week (review here). I initially re-tested it as a possible contender for my friend's new perfume (though the cost is admittedly a bit of a barrier!), but it ended up hitting the spot every single day when I was mulling over what to wear.

 

Source: Puredistance

So yes, I am not "over" perfume yet by any means, and greatly value all the friends I have made through the hobby, both real life and virtual, but I don't have that irrepressible urge to try, try, try, and often in the old days buy, buy, buy. Which is probably just as well. 

It also occurred to me that I probably don't deserve to celebrate a blog anniversary anymore, when I post about once a fortnight usually, and also had that long hiatus during my various health investigations. These haven't run out of steam either in fact, but the longer they drag on, the lower the chance of the doctors having overlooked something imminently fatal, one can but hope!

On that subject - not death, the other subject ;) - I would be curious to know if readers have a preference in terms of how often a blog owner posts? There are of course daily blogs, and several times a week blogs, and then the more "leisurely" (read "lazy"!) ones like mine. But I can only write when the spirit moves me, and will never ever have a schedule, even if that erratic rhythm sheds readers and SEO brownie points - as it very likely does.

I do have quite a few things in mind for the future, including - strange to report! - a couple of perfume reviews. I may not keep Bonkers up for ever though, as I would quite like to turn my hand in earnest to travel writing - maybe even a book featuring my many (mis!)adventures down the years on work trips, band tours and holidays. But we'll see...

So here it is, my 724th post, having batted off all the companies who would like to write guest articles here about everything from the Aquibear Countertop RO Water Purifier, to the Goodpapa K1 Multi-Function Spin Scrubber, the Elevoc Clear ANC + ENC Earphones, or the happily more snappily named MP Magic Boxer Brief, which prides itself on being:

"the first underwear with the unique seamless pouch on the current market. Totally seamless briefs for total comfort and once go seamless, never go back!"

Hmm, I bet you are wishing I had reviewed that last one...! And I wonder what perfume he wears? Looks like a Sauvage or a Bleu man to me, what do you reckon?





 

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Eczema-friendly anti-ageing night creams: ouch-proof contenders to suit every budget

Pinky's improvised throne from a box insert

About ten years ago, on the same day in Brussels I had the strange experience of a teenager giving up his seat for me on the Metro, and being kerb crawled in the red light district into which I had inadvertently strayed. I remember joking to friends at the time that I was "on the cusp between cougar and care home". The same was true in dermatological terms, for back then I had acne and wrinkles. To the list I have added a Vitamin E allergy and eyelid eczema / contact dermatitis, about which I wrote a longer post here. (Scary photo alert!)

I haven't been troubled too much by incidents of eczema this summer  - or not since June, say - when there is a confluence of pollens, but one of my eyes has recently gone that way again (wrinkly top and bottom, and sore to the touch). I think this is due to a new serum that has a number of allergens in it, most notably lavender. I should know better really than to put it round my eyes. Hey, I don't even like lavender, but it was heavily discounted!


Now recycled into coasters for pots of cream

There is nothing for it but to desist from using the serum and wait for the reaction to subside, as it usually does. I don't need to alter my night time routine though, as I already have an armoury of benign unguents at my disposal. To be fair the bar is set pretty low in terms of what I look for in a cream, and goes something like this:

1) non-irritating, especially around the eyes

2) a pleasingly hydrating feeling on application, whether the cream is thick or thin

3) anti-ageing ingredients of some kind (ceramides and peptides being the most eczema-friendly)

So for anyone curious, here is a trio of night creams to suit different budgets. I use them on (a very haphazard) rotation. Well, I don't use the Drunk Elephant one anymore as it is used up, and I only kept the pot for photographic purposes, in anticipation of this post. 



Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream (£50 - Cult Beauty)

6 Whipped African Oils & Ceramides

I hadn't heard of any of these African oils, the names of which I will spare you - they seem pretty recherché, and how pray does one whip an oil? I found this product on Beautypedia, where it had garnered a coveted 5 star rating from Paula Begoun. It comes in a beautiful mauve, white and grey box, with a striking monochrome design for the packaging insert. It is an airless jar with a "press-pump action", which I had to watch a YouTube video to figure out, haha. This design is said to be more hygienic and to inhibit the growth of bacteria that you get with pots you can dip your fingers in. Or is it something to do with the degradation of the product's active ingredients through the process of oxidation - or quite possibly both? I know Paula is very hot on pumps, but frankly I don't care too much about this aspect, for as my mother used to say: "You eat a peck of dirt before you die." And by inference apply it to your face too. She herself stuck her fingers in a pot of Pond's Cold Cream all her adult life and it didn't do her any harm. But maybe by the same token the product didn't do her any good, as it had gone rancid on the quiet - oh, I don't know. But speaking for myself, I am not as pump-orientated as is the modern way, even if I should be. Now initially when I tried this cream I had a bad reaction - my whole face felt very hot and burning for several nights in fact, but suddenly all that subsided and my face had obviously adjusted to the novelty of the whipped African oils. Perhaps they whip your skin in fact?? That would explain it. The  product is strikingly unscented - almost bizarrely so, when you think of the price tag - it smells more like something you might be prescribed rather than a high end niche product you have bought with your own money. It has a medium rich texture, and lasts quite a while, though the lid gets hard to press when there is very little left in the pot, which reminded me of trying to keep your balance on one of those wobble board things. 

Would I rebuy? No, not at £50 - I was feeling a bit maudlin during lockdown and wanted to treat myself, and I did enjoy it to the last blob. I have cut up the packaging insert and put a piece on my pinboard, leaving the rest to serve as (very small) coasters.


It is not as mauve as it looks in this photo!

Cerave PM Facial Moisturising Lotion (£18.98 - Amazon UK)

With 3 essential ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid

I have been using this product for years!, and already sang its praises in another dermatitis-themed post. It is another five star product on Beautypedia and I wouldn't need to feature it again only the formulation has changed, as Paula notes in her review:

"One point we do want to address: several people have contacted us saying that the updated formula stings their skin. This might be due to a potentially higher concentration of niacinamide in the formula, but niacinamide typically doesn't cause this reaction and most people tolerate even high amounts of it without incident. Another culprit could be the higher amount of pH-adjusting ingredient sodium hydroxide, which wasn't present in the original formula."

I did indeed find this cream quite stinging to start with, but after avoiding the eye area for a bit (which is where La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Yeux comes in (with thanks to Undina for the introduction!), my skin gradually got accustomed to it, and now I can slather the stuff on with abandon anywhere on my face. Though "slather" isn't quite the right word, as the lotion is correctly described as "Ultra Lightweight" - in texture if not in its ingredients, as you can see.

Would I rebuy? Absolutely. I am on my first bottle of the new version, but must have got through a good half dozen bottles of the old. While holidaying in New York, ex-Mr Bonkers and his girlfriend at the time kindly made a detour to a drugstore to pick up three bottles for me on a "three for two" offer. He Whatsapped me a photo of his girlfriend holding the product aloft in her pink nail polished hand(!) to check they had found the correct one. It is a US brand you see, and is hard to find in UK stores. The price quoted above is from Amazon - you can get other items from the Cerave range in both Boots and Superdrug, but I have only ever found this PM moisturiser online.



Nivea Hyaluron Cellular Filler (£15.75 - Boots)

Pure hyaluronic acid and collagen booster 

Right, so after my Drunk Elephant had finally keeled over, I found myself searching for a slightly richer cream that would make a comforting change from the lightweight Cerave above, especially after acid toning when I don't really want anything too heavy on the anti-ageing ingredients front in case the combined effects might cause a bad reaction. I turned to this budget night cream (which has some pretention of anti-ageing benefits) from Nivea. It is admittedly a finger dipper, but as I mentioned above I am not fazed by this, and even prefer the sensual act of dipping compared to wiping off the paltry dollop dispensed to me by the Drunk Elephant. I realise I am going completely against the tide of current thinking on the matter, so please feel free to shoot me down in flames. This cream is scented, but only gently, in the way that all products from the Nivea stable tend to be - it is a familiar, soothing fragrance that I couldn't really describe. I see Limonene, Linalool, Citronellol and Geraniol - and unspecified Parfum! - are listed, suggesting a citrus, rosy kind of leaning, but it is more elusive than that. Overall, I found this cream to be punching above its price tag in terms of a "luxury" feel.

Would I rebuy? You bet - I just sprung for my second jar, which is accolade indeed, as only a few products make it onto the repeat list. I can't find any reviews of substance on the Net, nor is it on Paula's radar that I can see. I don't know what the collagen booster consists of either, though  Macadamia oil and Magnolia bark are amongst the ingredients, so it might be them.



NB Honourable mention goes to Eucerin Eczema Relief Flare-Up Treatment (Colloidal Oatmeal Skin Protectant Cream / Ceramide 3 Enriched).

Eucerin is a Beiersdorf brand, ie the same stable as Nivea, and is well regarded on the dermatologist circuit. I'd say this product is more for calming angry skin during a flare up than something to be used every day. It has a bit of an anti-ageing angle, but is more about its emollient effects. I include this for any American readers in particular, as it is the very devil to get hold of in Britain - I bought it via Amazon in the end, but it took forever to come from the States. It is currently on a deep discount compared to what I paid though - just £7.30, plus £4 postage - so if your complexion is currently in distress, this will sort it out. I have been prescribed a colloidal oatmeal lotion through the doctor as well, which was similar in texture and general feel, though it lacked any ceramides - AproDerm, in a ginormous tub with a pump mechanism. Now that's more like it...;)




Tuesday, 5 October 2021

The Smell of Despair: random off-topic post on how not to sell a sofa

 

Apologies for the lack of squarely perfume-centric content of late: I do have a couple of perfumes I quite fancy writing about, but before I get to those something else always seems to catch my fancy! I am gearing up at some point to write a piece on skincare, and one on sleep, and one on "life hacks" I was surprised to discover recently. But I'll admit to having been majorly sidetracked by a full-on house project lately that has taken the best part of a month, involved preternaturally early starts, and consumed my attention - and an entire jar of sugar in the workmen's tea. ;) I could write a post about that experience perhaps, as lessons have been learnt. Much as they were when I had the main bathroom refurbished back in 2016, and reported on that process, which was harrowing and instructive in equal measure.

 


And because of my distracted state, instead of something more germane (feeble pun in the title notwithstanding), I have decided to split an infinitive and finally do the silly post I threatened to write some years ago (bet nobody remembers!) - on how not to sell a sofa. I don't believe I have ever sold a sofa myself, but I have bought a few...er...a lot, even. Looking back, I bought five for the house I shared with ex-Mr Bonkers (they are all still there too); then I have shoehorned five into this house, which I am astonished to realise on totting them up, and have two in France - one a cast off from my friend L, which was gathering dust in her barn, and goes back to her student days. Of the sofas in this house, two were bought on eBay, two on Facebook Marketplace, and only one was new - bought at a very good price from a manufacturer near Nottingham which deals directly with the public in a limited way, but doesn't advertise the fact. The company allegedly made the chairs for the film Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp, but I certainly didn't run into him browsing through fabric books on my visit to their showroom. Finally, the one in France that wasn't a gift was another eBay bargain. So I may be a bit of a sofa tycoon, but I am a canny shopper with it.

Now the fact that I have searched for so many sofas online - sofa surfed, you could say! - means that I have seen a lot of listings, and formed a view as to what is and isn't conducive to making that sale. There will undoubtedly be other factors, but for my money these are some of the problem areas that occur in adverts:

Sofa looks like a Michelin Man wannabe

Now I accept that in order for a sofa to be comfortable, a degree of padding is required. But these examples of "extreme upholstery" take the concept of pneumatic seating to a whole new level.

 


This one arguably has a 'Birth of Venus' scallop shell vibe going on?

 


This imposing black and beige model is free to a good home!

 


Sofa has hidden flaws?

I nearly named this "implausible antimacassars", for that is what the fabric draped over the back of the sofa below reminds me of.

 


 

And here is a covert operation involving cushions AND strategically placed fabric.

 


And another one... "Throwing" everything at the cover up operation. ;)



Sofa is not "staged" to its best advantage

I have a friend who - as a kind of running joke - posts photos on Instagram of furniture he has spotted abandoned on street corners. The photographs below are not quite that, but not far off it!

 


 

 Not a very scenic backdrop, but a bonus pouffe.

 


Misjudging the optimal cushion count

This point is related to the staging one above, but concerns the accessories placed on the sofa itself rather than the background of the photo.

Strangely, it IS possible to have too many cushions, and I speak as someone who errs on the side of profusion.


 

Meanwhile, this sofa strikes me as crying out for a "balancing cushion".

 


Sofa (and/or its owner) have given up the will to live

Actually, this category has some overlap with the others - or probably would have if you could see all the items in question. Full marks for transparency, mind.



 

At least this throw and baby drink paraphernalia? are not disguising any imperfections as such, but it doesn't make for a smart presentation of the goods.

 

 

The seller of this one is both transparent - and persuasive...

"hole in the back but cushions cover it perfect for someone just starting out and in need"

 


 

 By way of contrast, here is how the sofa that ended up in France was displayed by its owner:

 

 

I kept it for a while in the garage until I found someone to transport it over there (see photo at the top of the post). If I ever decide to sell it I have the listing photo ready to go! ;)

Have you ever bought or sold a sofa on the Internet? Do share your good or bad experiences!

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Grand Theft Olfacto! The content scrapers are at it again...

It has been a while (nine years!) since I noticed someone posting chunks of my blog posts on their own website. The last time it was an Israeli site, and I wrote about the incident here. Which is not to say that people haven't been quietly scraping my content since 2012, because I haven't actively been on the lookout for it. The other day though, I was idly googling Bonkers about Perfume in the same way as you sometimes get the urge to google your own name and see what comes up - what? you don't do that? - and it wasn't long till I lit upon a site called "Bonkers about the Perfume". Which is not even correct English, so I immediately smelt a rat. 

I clicked on the site, which contained eight posts (in chronological order) from the autumn of 2015. Why those eight I will never know, but one of them was an account of how Val the Cookie Queen stepped up as emergency roadie and ferried the band around very close to her home in Austria, so I was a bit peeved about that one in particular being nicked. Also this account of visiting Liz Moores en route to another gig. The rest of the blog - labels, titles, headers etc - was in a foreign language.



Next up, I clicked on the name of the blog "owner" - a Roni Kusoy - who I think is probably Indonesian, based on the number of Indonesian people of that name on Facebook, though admittedly no Ronis. And on his Blogger profile I spied a further four perfume blogs I recognised: "old-timers" like me, and even bigger sites, namely:

Persolaise Perfumes (Persolaise)

Smellin Things of Perfume (Perfume Smellin Things)

Shrines Perfume (Perfume Shrine)

The Maisque Perfume (+ Q Perfume Blog)



And blow me down if this Roni Kusoy bloke hadn't also taken precisely eight posts from the same period of 2015 from each of these blogs and posted them on his phoney sites. He has scraped another nine blogs beyond that, including several about cats. ;) At least he hasn't been able to copy the illustrations across, so there are daft-looking blank spaces everywhere. You can see the full list if you are curious, and click through to the perfume ones from there. I don't want to give the man too many clicks from my own site, as that feels like playing into his hands.

Now it is only eight posts per blog, whereas the Israeli thief had taken a lot more, but I felt sufficiently annoyed to leave a comment on Bonkers about the Perfume, asking him to take the site down, and adding that I was going to inform the other blog owners (well, the owners of the perfume blogs, certainly, with whom I have a connection).

I AM THE REAL OWNER OF BONKERS ABOUT PERFUME AND THIS IS A FAKE SITE, STEALING MY CONTENT. PLEASE DELETE THE EIGHT POSTS YOU HAVE COPIED! I SEE YOU HAVE DONE THE SAME THING WITH THREE OTHER PERFUME BLOGS AND WILL BE LETTING THEM KNOW!

[At the time of writing I hadn't yet clocked the fake version of + Q Perfume Blog...]

Well, some time has elapsed but the offending sites are still there, and Kusoy hasn't responded to, or even deleted, my comment! (Which I made a point of leaving on all eight posts.) This chap also has a YouTube channel - it is the only other search result in Google apart from his Blogger profile - with two videos uploaded onto it, and all of 11 subscribers. Assuming it is the same Roni Kusoy, and I can find no one else of that name.

It just remains to puzzle over why he would even want to pose as the owner of all these blogs? Is it a mischievous game to climb higher up the rankings than the legitimate sites in question? Is he simply trying to harness lots of clicks and awareness of his name by instantly creating new sites with content, albeit not his own? And am I right that he is Indonesian?

If you are a blogger, have you had your own content scraped, and were you able to resolve the issue? I would be grateful for any tips as to how to get the sites taken down, because asking politely - or even rudely! - doesn't seem to make much difference. And I know this act of brazen scrapery doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, and barely counts as a "Grand Theft", except on aggregate perhaps, but still...




Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Mind how you go: France - the sequel, now the cuckoo has landed

 



The cuckoo has landed. Yes, I am back in Blighty, after a 600 mile drive, two PCR tests, and 29 loads of washing. Or so it felt. And this after not having driven further than Stoke in 18 months until a test run to Buxton the weekend before I went to France, though that was only 50 miles.

I didn't initially think the holiday would spawn two blog posts, but there were a few noteworthy events since I wrote the one in August, so I decided to commit them to screen after all, prefaced by sub-headings for ease. 

The model guest

This is my 11th stay in the village, and my 7th as a home owner. And my first as a host! For I finally took the plunge and had a guest to stay, an old tutor from my university days in Belfast, whose hospitality I have enjoyed on work trips on and off for 40 years, but to whom I have never returned the favour - until now.

He was a delight to have around, spontaneously doing food shopping and the washing up. We remarked on what a treat it is when you live alone (as we both do) to have someone to share the chores with. He had helpful suggestions on task lighting for the area which would be a kitchen if I had the full complement of relevant appliances, and also made the happy discovery that my fridge does in fact have a freezer compartment! On the practical front, he pointed out some crumbling areas of masonry that had escaped my eye, an earth cable outside that might benefit from a protective cover against the elements, and a patch of possibly recent woodworm. For the time being I have set a "tissue trap" over the affected area (the beetles will eat their way through it if they are still extant), and will address the "tissue issue" on my next visit. 

My friend was also a mine of surprising food facts: for example, that if you eat even the tiniest bit of eggshell you might get appendicitis; that mashed bananas are okay to eat even after they go brown, and that eating carbs for breakfast is in fact the worst time of day. Wot, no croissants or pains aux raisins...? Why, in English they are even collectively called "morning goods". Clearly that one is never going to (Garibaldi) fly.



Most impressive of all, on the first day that I suggested we make an excursion to some local beauty spots in the Dordogne, he said he'd much rather go in search of a clothes airer for me, as there is nowhere to dry my laundry in the French house, assuming I had first figured out the coin-operated washing machine in the wall outside Carrefour. He would only agree to doing touristy things once we had scoured the aisles of a Leclerc hypermarket (in vain) in search of one. 

Another endearing aspect of my friend was the fact that he understood the insecurities associated with aging, announcing brightly one morning that he was going to the bathroom "to try to make myself look a bit less like Cro-Magnon". So yes, he is welcome back anytime.

And he hadn't been gone five minutes when the orange and white cat (by now a daily visitor) annexed his bed.



Pass the pool tickets

Towards the end of the holiday - and the end of the swimming pool season - a French friend in the village handed me a clutch of swim tickets, which had in turn been given to her by a Dutch lady who had some spare. I kept a couple for myself, as there were only two days left before the annual closure, and I couldn't see myself going for a swim more than once a day, and passed three on to my English neighbours next door. When I went to settle a bill with the guy who troubleshot my gas hob in 2019 (things move very slowly in rural France, not least invoicing), I offloaded the remaining tickets onto him, as time was running out. He couldn't use them himself, as he was working, but was confident he could give them to a French friend with small children. Sure enough, when I went that afternoon, there was a lady of a similar age to him in the pool, children in tow, so I inferred (with some satisfaction, I can tell you ;) ) that the last tickets had found a home...

Of note too is that when you go for a swim, you have to present your vaccine passport, which in my case consisted of a letter in an NHS envelope. The lady on the door didn't even glance at it, saying: "I trust you." I was touched by this, though it did make me realise that I could have had the letter in there inviting me for my bone density scan - or arguably just a bank statement.



Covid regulation hoop-jumping

I am now well and truly blooded in all the requisite forms and procedures involved (currently!) in going to and coming back from France. One of these requirements is the pre-departure Covid test at a local laboratory, the precise timing of which you have to calculate with care, as it needs to be so many hours before you leave the country, plus you also need to be sure of receiving the results before you set off on your homeward journey. I guess you could assume a negative result and set off regardless, but in the event of a positive result you would need to be prepared to turn back and self-isolate where you had come from. The lab promised results within 24 hours, and I had factored in 26 before I really did need to leave. As it happens, they were through in less than 10, which was a jolly quick turnaround.

I nearly came a cropper though when I tried to pay for the lab test upfront with a 50 euro note. The girl on reception looked horrified, and gestured for me to remove the offending cash from the counter. "We can't accept that - it's microbial!" 

Another aspect of the protocol to re-enter the country is a lengthy online form you must complete in the 48 hour window before arriving in the UK. (You need good maths for this caper, let me tell you.) I overheard two women talking about this outside the lab. I assumed they were frequent foreign travellers as they were already referring to said form by an acronym - "PLF".  Move over, Palestine Liberation Front - the new acronym on the block is for the Passenger Locator Form!

Another yogurt implement incident

In 1978, aged 19, my friend Averil and I went backpacking round France and Italy. Rouen was an early stop in the trip and where we realised we had failed to pack any cutlery. After trying and failing with a comb, we managed to eat a yogurt with the end of a toothbrush. I am 62 now, and stopped in Rouen overnight on the journey back, where history repeated itself.




The ne plus ultra of customer service

Whilst on the ferry I wandered into the duty free - looking for a small edt bottle of Shalimar in fact, but no joy - and instead came out with a box of six assorted wines from a small producer in Aix-en-Provence which the manager said were better quality and value than the ones I had randomly picked out myself. This lady also arranged for her colleague - who looked like a female prison warder in navy trousers and sturdy steel-capped shoes, with a big bunch of keys in her hand - to open up the car deck specially for me, despite it being normally out of bounds to passengers during the crossing. To be fair I couldn't have handled the box of wine and my belongings when the ship docked, but it still felt like a big favour. The colleague proceeded to undo bolts and pull back levers on the heavy metal door with a dramatic flourish, as though she were opening up a bank vault to reveal a gleaming pile of ingots, not my 9 year old Ford Focus, fortuitously parked just behind it.

And my luck kept coming...the same manager of the duty free magically popped up on the till of the cafeteria moments after I returned from the wine stowing mission. She insisted I be given a second cup of machine-dispensed hot chocolate free, in a bigger paper cup, because I had accidentally used a small espresso one and some of my drink had run over the side!

Here is the wine (not all purchased on this trip, hehe). Even so, I think I may need to up my drinking...;)



The not so speedy supercar

On the long drive back from Newhaven, I got stuck in stop-start traffic on the M25 (as you do, even in a pandemic with sizeable numbers of people still supposedly working from home). Interestingly, the French for "stop-start" traffic is "circulation en accordéon" (accordion traffic - or perhaps, concertina, even), which is nicely graphic. At one point I got stuck behind the low slung head turning high performance beast that is a McClaren car, and thought how frustrated the driver must have been not to get above second gear till nearly the exit for the M40.




Now I am back I am already looking forward to my next visit to the house, even if it will be dominated by chasing up a joiner to do some much needed window repairs, pouring gravel down a hole under the stairs, and treating the woodworm as appropriate. And more hoovering and weeding and de-cobwebbing, obviously. Apparently the cat is still hanging around my house, doubtless puzzled that I still haven't opened the door to let him in...