Tuesday, 16 August 2022

"SCENT and all about it" by H Stanley Redgrove: an olfactory Oxfam find


Are you one of those people who enjoys cruising the shelves of charity shops in between bursts of "proper shopping", in the knowledge that a bargain find of a £2 jug or a £3 pair of shoes will be a surefire way to give yourself a little lift? I am that charity shop cruising soldier, and even if nothing else turns up, there are invariably a few paperbacks that come home with me on any given sortie - you just need to poke around enough amongst the serried ranks of horror, historical romance, and chick lit. So imagine my delight when I was browsing in my local Oxfam shop and spied this hardback book from 1928(!) - on perfume of all unlikely topics. Bagged for the improbably precise sum of £1.79, and I turned a blind eye to its foxed cover and tatty spine. It is not far off a hundred years old, after all. 

To be honest it was more of a technical read than I was after, but I enjoyed parts of it a lot, and loved the mere fact of handling such a venerable textbook on fragrance, with such a charmingly blunt title to boot: "and all about it". The book describes itself as "A Popular Account of the Science and Art of Perfumery", and I would question how popular it would be now, or was then even. The chapters were originally submitted to "The Hairdressers' Chronicle and Beauty Specialists' Trade Journal", which struck me as a spectacularly unspecialist periodical. I guess IFRA didn't come along till 1973 after all.

In the preface to the book the author, H Stanley Redgrove (we can but guess at the name behind the "H", but my money is on Harold or Henry), refers readers seeking more technical information on perfumery to the technical works of Askinson, Durvelle, Parry & Poucher, who do sound so very much of their time.

There's a great titbit about the need for a "compounder's license" costing £15 15s a year, in order to be allowed to prepare perfumes containing alcohol commercially. I wonder what the going rate is today.

The book proper kicks off with a section on the history of perfume: from Egyptian times up to the invention of Hungary Water, the first scent made with alcohol. Redgrove covers the advent of synthetics in perfumery, and soon gets into my favourite section: "Some Peculiarities of Odorous Bodies", where we learn about the appeal of indol when it is deployed at an optimal dilution, and fixatives such as civet, ambergris and musk. He notes how back then ambergris was already being replaced by sweet gum and oleo resins, while a successful substitute for natural musk remained elusive.

African civet cat ~ Source: animalspot.net

Later in the book there are some grim details about the exact MO by which these precious animal substances are harvested:

"...the cat is placed in a cage only just long enough to contain it, and after its legs are tied it is teased, as this increases secretion. Some of the civet is spontaneously ejected, the rest removed via a small spoon from pouches the glands excrete it into."

I will spare you the nitty-gritty on the extraction methods for the secretions of deer and badgers, but there were a couple more strange nuggets of info, namely the fact that most of the civet used in the UK at that time came from Abyssinia and was packed in ox-horns containing 1.5 - 2 lbs. I have to ask why? Couldn't they have used the early 20th century equivalent of a Tupperware? I also learnt that some nefarious middlemen tried to adulterate civet, I guess along similar lines to those who cut heroin with baking soda or talc. But I wasn't expecting the substance in question - banana pulp! Redgrove helpfully goes on to tell readers how to test for it. ;)

There is a little bit in the book on more abstract topics such as whether perfumery is art, the aesthetics of perfume, and its psychological effects - including a nice analogy with music where accords = chords - and he makes the excellent point that we are ill-equipped to describe smells with our current vocabulary and must resort to comparisons, as in: "this smells like x". However, most of the rest of the content is rather over my head.

For example, there is a whole chapter dedicated to the different types of alcohol; I now know more than I feel I need to about pyridine, fusel oils and empyreumatic substances. Then as well as detailed explanations of that well-known quartet of techniques used to produce essential oils - expression, enfleurage, distillation and extraction - he wanders into the chemistry of carbon compounds, and before I knew it I was bogged down in isomerism and phenolic bodies / esters. Actually, esters are ringing a bit of a bell with me, ditto aliphatic compounds, from my various work projects in chemicals down the years - including one famously in aroma chemicals in fine fragrances years before I became interested in perfume - but I couldn't tell you what they are now, haha.

The book finishes with some actual perfume formulations from the period, including Jockey Club by Askinson (sic), and recipes for Eau de Cologne and Lavender Water. For anyone curious about the former, there are three pints of extract of jasmine in Jockey Club, two of rose, and one of tuberose, along with half a pint of tincture of civet! I reckon that might have smelt more like the stables at mucking out time than the stated odour of "sweet wild flowers wafted over Epsom Downs".

Now I have more to say about my own evolving relationship with civet, but that can wait for another time...

So I definitely had my £1.79's worth(!), and I believe the book may have some value, battered spine notwithstanding. I have sent it to Eliza though - it is the back up book I omitted to bring with me when I met her the other weekend...;)

What's the best book find you've had lately in a charity shop? Have you ever come across any on perfume?

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

"The Liz Declension": meeting perfumer Eliza Douglas in an English country garden

Move over, Provence!

I have been having a lot of bother with my neighbours lately: by which I mean more bother than usual, which is already quite a lot. This week saw them nearly set their kitchen on fire by deliberately leaving butter in a hot oven as a prank, hard on the heels of a toaster fire last week, and a broken kitchen tap caused by a botched dousing attempt. A bottle was later thrown out of an upstairs window, which smashed to smithereens exactly where my paying guest's car had been parked, had I not presciently advised him to move it earlier that evening. There were also several angry shouting matches in the small hours that penetrated my most hermetic style of ear plugs, as well as slammed doors, running up and down corridors, and assorted things going bump in the night. 

By Saturday morning my nerves were shot, and it was with a great sense of relief that I set off for Oxfordshire to stay with my old friend and walking companion, Nicola and her husband, in their idyllic Cotswold cottage. Nicola had been cooking all morning, and within half an hour of my arrival we were seated at the garden table outside, sipping refreshing water melon and vodka cocktails, and about to tuck into the enormous banquet of vegan mezes she had painstakingly prepared. And not only had my friend gone to great lengths to distract me from my stressful preoccupations with food and drink, but she had also lined up a very special guest to join us for lunch, namely Eliza Douglas: perfumer, fragrance evaluator, teacher, IFRA staff member, scented event organiser, and general promoter of all things olfactory. Eliza lives near Nicola and is part of their well-knit local community.

A quick digression may be in order to explain what I mean by "The Liz Declension". Well, it struck me that there are several notable people on the UK perfume scene whose names are variants of Liz: Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery, Lizzie Ostrom (Odette Toilette), and Eliza Douglas. We just need the odd Beth or Betty, a full-blown Elizabeth perhaps - or God forbid, a Lilibet! - to complete the set.

Anyway, the first amusing thing that happened is that Eliza and I had both thought to bring a book to give to the other: I chose "The Secret of Scent" by Luca Turin, which was a bit too technical for me, while Eliza chose "The Perfume Collector" by Kathleen Tessaro...and of course we already had these books. ;)

Eliza, however, had had the forethought to bring a back up book for this very eventuality, namely "Olfaction: A Journey", which celebrates a decade of the IFRA Fragrance Forum. (One of Eliza's numerous hats being that of Membership Liaison Secretary for IFRA.) I quickly got past my usual objection to the use of the word "j*****y" in the title, which as regular readers know is a particular bugbear of mine. For the book is a truly fascinating compendium of articles on scent-related topics, under broad headings such as "Arts & Culture", "Technology & Innovation", "Health & Well-Being", "Psychology" etc. It is chock full of more interesting nuggets than you can shake a blotter at, some of which I sense may provide a springboard for future blog posts. And to top it all...the book is a teal colour! Eliza could not possibly have known that I have a teal book theme going on in my house - indeed one could be forgiven for thinking that only teal-spined books are allowed on display. So that was the second amusing thing.

Soon we were tucking into the vegan feast in earnest, and had moved on from the refreshing cocktails to summery rose wine. I could feel the stress melting away, partly because I always relax when talking about perfume. As I chatted to Eliza about her past and present fragrance projects, and swapped notes on the various people we knew in common, I lost myself in the moment and completely forgot about my neighbour woes - much like that time I talked to a surgeon while I was on the operating table about his wife's preference for scents composed by Sophia Grojsman, which helped me tune out to the fact that he was excising a mole at the time!

For anyone not familiar with Eliza, she studied at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery and lived in New York for six years, where she worked for Frederic Malle (accents on request), before going on to collaborate with the innovative and maverick perfumer Christophe Laudamiel - he of the avant-garde arm scrunchies - who describes himself (comprehensively!, hyphenatedly!) as Master Perfumer-Creator and Chemist-Inventor. His DreamAir company provides "highly customised fine fragrances, as well as applications and technologies to play and display scents, on skin, in the air, or in many other surprising places". Typical examples of these Scent Sculptures or "ambient atmospheres" may be found in hotels, museums, music festivals, operas - or operas in museums indeed. Wikipedia has a tantalising and exhaustive list of them under the heading "Scent Sculptures, Art Installations and Performances", and a few particularly caught my eye: "Hamburg Harbour" (of which I have many happy memories), "Elephant in Rut", "Guilty and Orgasm aromas", and the teasing oxymoron of "True Fake Cocaine". I can't comment on which ones Eliza may have worked on, but I bet she had fun. Staying with the theme of Hamburg Harbour, I would suggest another ambient scent Laudamiel might consider creating, namely "Third Biggest Banana Dock in the World", which I have seen, but admittedly not got close enough to sniff. I note that there is already a banana-themed scent on the list - "The Banana and the Monkey" - so it should be straightforward enough to knock up a nautical flanker. Anyway, suffice to say that I really like the cut of Laudamiel's whimsical jib - I had heard of him, but had quite forgotten how fabulously bonkers he is. With such a vivid imagination, he must have been exciting as all get-out (as the Americans say!) to work with. The idea of Scent Sculptures very much reminded me of the "olfactive animation" projects of Zsolt Zólyomi, Hungary's only perfumer - or he was at the time! - upon whom I chanced during a work trip to Budapest. In that post I mention my own abortive attempt to sniff the inside of a museum he had scented just before closing time...

Source: Instagram

Eliza and Laudamiel are also champions of the Academy of Perfumery and Aromatics in the US, of which Eliza is Treasurer. Founded in 2002 by Laudamiel, it houses the American branch of the Osmotheque and has as its mission: "to introduce olfaction, scent history, scent design and culture into school and university curriculums as well as to the general public".  In 2014, they launched an educational venture called "A Sense for Scents"; the centrepiece of the kit supplied to schools was a set of 20 "whispi" mini-pumps that use fresh air to deliver scent in a fragrant puff. Eliza has given me one and I am blowed if I know what the smell is, even though I am long out of school, hehe. Here is a mini-blog post about the kits by Luca Turin, who is a fan, and used them with pupils in Greece!

Ye whispi

Along with Eliza, Nicola Pozzani also co-developed this project; his name rang an instant bell, and I realised that he was the chap who ran the synaesthesia workshop for Le Labo in 2011 which I blogged about for Cafleurebon. Small world indeed...

What else has Eliza done? She has evaluated fragrances for Gallivant, and runs independent perfumery workshops and classes with groups and individuals. UK-based readers may remember the Perfume Lab "drop in"-style project at Somerset House, where a series of perfumers took up residencies "to showcase the art and science of crafting a fragrance". Eliza took part in 2017 - I don't know if the project is still going, mind, or whether it got kiboshed by Covid.

Oh, and she is also writing a book...I can't say too much, but perfume materials and botany feature, together with food, and - intriguingly! - meditation. The food angle is not surprising, for I also learnt that Eliza is related to Prue Leith, no less (first cousin once removed if my memory serves me).

So, as very often happens with perfume meet ups, the afternoon simply flew by, and there wasn't nearly enough time to talk about everything. So you may imagine my delight when Nicola announced that Eliza was popping back on Sunday morning with some samples for me, to wit a goodly clutch of Frederic Malles, including Lys Mediterrranee, of which I had recently drained my own sample. I had not tried Noir Epices, so I put it on today, notwithstanding its wintery style, and was instantly transported. I rushed to see what Boisdejasmin thought of it, as we have strikingly similar taste. I correctly predicted that she would have given it four stars (guessing Victoria's star attribution without peeking really could be a party trick of mine). This is not the time or place to describe Noir Epices in detail, even if I could do justice to its gauzy allure, but I commend V's review to you.

Samples complete with attractive bag!

One inevitable question that came up in conversation was our favourite perfumes: I had brought along House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved and Guerlain Plus Que Jamais, which are in my top "two to three-ish", and Eliza was very taken with PQJ, which is a great shame as it is discontinued. See my eulogy at the time of its demise. Eliza said her favourite perfume was possibly one she greatly admired, yet wouldn't actually wear on account of its hugeness, namely FM Une Rose. Curious to understand this accolade, Nicola sprayed a trace amount and promptly saw exactly what she meant. ;) Then in terms of a favourite wearable scent, Eliza plumped for Roger & Gallet's rose perfume, which I assume is this one. I shall look out for it when I am in France next!

Source: FragranceX

In closing, I would like to give a big shout out to Nicola for having the idea to arrange this meeting with Eliza, on the assumption that we would have a fair bit in common and to chew the cud about (we did!).

And here is a photo of Nicola's pet lion, Tio, who has to be the most statuesque domestic cat I have ever encountered.

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Not A Clockwork Orange or spider's legs effect, but not quite nothing either: Uklash Eyelash Serum review


As I have got older, I have become more and more dissatisfied with my appearance. Where to start? The lack of definition round my jawline (aka flapping jowls), the creeping grey that I try in vain to pass off as "elective silver", the nasolabial folds that look more or less gouged depending on factors I have yet to fathom, my sparse eyebrows and lashes, dry eyes, crepey, hooded eyelids, and pronounced lip lines I am surprised to have acquired as a non-smoker. On the plus side, I don't have bags under my eyes or wrinkles on my decolletage, if that is not too grand a term for it, although any budding dendrologists amongst you could have a field day determining my age by the concentric rings round my neck.

At the same time as this is all going on, I am wearing make up less and less often, in a bid to prevent recurrences of my several kinds of dermatitis, about which I should really write another post sometime, while conceding that my eyes can look a bit like a startled woodland creature without artificial enhancement. As my ex used to ask me on the rare occasions when I went barefaced: "Aren't you going to paint any eyes on?" And thus it was that one of the many Facebook ads you spot while mindlessly scrolling - and which pander to your insecurities - caught my eye...for an eyelash serum called Uklash. I was not even aware of the existence of this product category, but before I knew it I was bombarded by ads from a veritable thicket of brands, all fronted by fresh-faced users with incredibly doll-like lashes. Most impressive of all was the video showing how one woman's lashes had developed after two weeks, eight weeks, and twelve weeks of daily application. After just a fortnight her eyelashes had magically begun to sprout, while by the three month mark she was batting spectacular spider's legs at the camera.

So remarkable were the transformations I saw in the testimonials for Uklash, that after checking the serum didn't contain any known allergens I dropped nearly £40 on a tube at the end of April, and embarked on my own three month "lash growing journey", hehe. The product applicator is like a very fine paintbrush - as you get with liquid eyeliner, not that I have ever used that - and you paint it on each eyelid just behind your top lashes (only the upper set!) in one nifty sweep...that's for those with a steady hand and 20/20 vision, I might add. I sometimes took a couple of go's, but never exceeded the amount of liquid dispensed in one "pull" out of the tube. Here are the ingredients for anyone interested, though unusually for me I didn't really pay much attention to them - I was already sold on the miracle to come!

Infused with a blend of vitamins, peptides and extracts. Key ingredients like Biotin Peptide, Vitamin B5, Myristoyl Pentapeptide-17 & Green Tea Extract

GRAPHIC IMAGE ADVISORY! Truly, front facing cameras are the spawn of the devil...;)

May 1st - Day 1

Well, I have to say that my mileage did indeed vary from the woman in the video ad. It was five weeks before I noticed any change, and then only a subtle one, such that I am not sure anyone in my circle would have clocked a difference. But at that point I do believe my lashes were a tad thicker and longer (maybe). I should have measured them at the outset, though that might not have been very straightforward to do.

June 6th - five weeks in 

At the 11.5 week mark I don't see much further change, though there may have been a little, and will continue to use the tube till it dries out. There is a money back guarantee if you don't see any results, and though I am slightly tempted to invoke it, I have seen a difference, so I don't really qualify. Here is what the company promise:

Real results - up to 55% longer and 75% more voluminous looking lashes

I guess "up to" covers a multitude of sins...

June 29th - 8.5 weeks in

Here are some of the brand's "before and after" photos. Do take a look - some of the results are frankly astonishing. I am afraid I can't reproduce any in this post, as they all seem to be in a webfile format. I am reassured to see that quite a few of the women charting their progress have had considerable difficulty photographing their lashes without tilting their eyeballs up and back at a stupid angle. My attempts were even more unflattering I would say, but it was all in the interests of scientific experiment and can't be helped. ;)

July 3rd - 9 weeks in - I am well lit!

Was the £37.95 worth it? Well, kind of, because I did derive a hugely enjoyable sense of anticipation waiting for my lashes to do something, not unlike the feeling of excitement the novice gardener derives from chucking a packet of wild garden seeds over a bare flowerbed and hoping for the best. Plus there has been an improvement, and though I doubt anyone would notice who sees me without makeup, a little mascara goes a lot further now, so something has changed. 

I shan't come back when I am at the twelve week mark as this is Bonkers about Perfume, and as you know we don't do things by the book. I took a photo of myself just now, but it is the same as the earlier ones and I don't want to spam you with too many mugshots. Plus I don't think anything more is going to happen now! But remember that you may get better results if you fancied having a go. I think I saw fractionally more growth in my right eye actually, which was the one where I had a steadier hand doing the application. Well, it was fun, and hey...who wants to look like Malcolm McDowell anyway?

Source: happymag.tv

Friday, 8 July 2022

Musings on LUSH Lord of Misrule, and a big shout out to Tiny Fragrances

Engraving by George Cruikshank via Wikimedia Commons

Sorry I have been missing in action for nearly a month...I have been surprisingly busy caring for other people's pets and gardens, the lush vegetation in one of which has inspired me to write another post entirely, but for the moment I would like to talk about the other LUSH, as in the capitalised perfume house formerly known as Gorilla Perfumes, after formerly being known as LUSH.

Last weekend I had a roadying job up in Sheffield with The Monochrome Set, which I do from time to time when the gig is a little too far out of town to be conveniently reached on foot or public transport - and you try ordering a taxi on a Saturday night in any British city, as we tried and spectacularly failed to do one rainy and windswept night in Hull last winter!  At the sound check I was aware of a delightful sillage following Jane, the band manager, as she flitted up and downstairs between green room and venue carrying out her various duties, most importantly "hunting the rider". The rider wasn't actually tracked down till shortly before the band went on stage, whereupon we all descended on a selection of water, beer and wine with the zeal of seagulls in St Ives swooping down on a bag of chips.

I asked Jane what she was wearing that night and it turned out to be LUSH Lord of Misrule, of which I was quite unaware - which is pretty par for the course for me these days, to be fair. It smelt very familiar and alluring in a vanillic, "barnyard" kind of way, and I vowed to look into it further on my return.

Notes: patchouli, black pepper, vanilla

But first I would like to say a word about the splendid name of the fragrance, Lord of Misrule. Any coincidence between the timing of this post and the exit of prime ministers past, present, or somewhere in between, hehe, is of course purely fortuitous...

Illustration by Spencer Baird Nichols via Wikimedia Commons

From Wikipedia:  

"In England, the Lord of Misrule – known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots - was an officer appointed by lot during Christmastide to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying."

Christmas drunkenness and wild partying? Any resemblance between the origins of the perfume name and.........ahem.....moving swiftly on.....!

And I also found this in the blurb to an episode of "Funny in Four" on the BBC website:

"The Lord of Misrule was the ultimate disrupter - his sovereignty gives us a quick burst of anarchy that refreshes and revives."

Hmmmm....well, I guess it depends on your idea of "refreshment", for there is a fine line between a thirst-slaking glass of Perrier - or make that Robinson's Barley Water as we are in Wimbledon season after all (albeit I believe they recently ended their 86 year old sponsorship deal) - and having to knock back 10 pints of lager one after the other without burping or drawing breath. Sorry, mind wandering again. But yes, how inadvertently prophetic that I should discover a perfume of that name in what has turned out to be one of the most turbulent weeks in UK political history. "Febrile" even, which was another word beloved of the media in recent days, along with "tumultuous".

Back home, I soon set about ordering a sample. There are so many more sampling sites out there now compared with the early days of my perfume hobby when I routinely used to shell out the equivalent of a small mortgage every month to The Perfumed Court and Lucky Scent. I quickly lit upon a company called Tiny Fragrances, whose apt and endearing name appealed, and ordered a 2ml sample for £5.50 including free postage. The price apparently reflected the fact that the delivery might be longer than usual, namely up to ten days. To my surprise I received a notification from PayPal the next day with the news that Tiny Fragrances had refunded me 55p, having forgotten to apply the "slow delivery discount", which I of course had assumed was already factored in. And blow me down if the perfume itself didn't arrive two days later in a dear little purple velvet drawstring bag.

I wore Lord of Misrule finally yesterday, and though it goes on quite strong, the drydown does the same raunchy sweet patchouli number on me as it did on Jane. I was greatly exercised as to why Lord of Misrule smelt so familiar yet long forgotten at the same time, till a light bulb suddenly went on in my head - L'Ombre Fauve (or "Bestial Shadow", my preferred translation of the name). I found my short write up of the Parfumerie Generale fragrance from 2015 - here is the full post, if anyone is interested in other scents in similar "super furry animal" vein.

Notes: woods, incense, amber, musk, patchouli

"Now L'Ombre Fauve is wonderfully hoochy, but the patchouli lends a rough edge to the scent going in. I don't mean hoochy in a Hooters way exactly, but the opening is certainly not refined. It's earthy and ragged and a bit clod- - as in sod- - hopping. I never reviewed L'Ombre Fauve, because despite being such a fan of woody orientals, I find myself even more tongue-tied than usual in describing what I smell. What I can give you, if you can 'take it' (as all good mediums say), is an image of me sitting on a stool in a moodily lit tapas bar in Hamburg with my Swedish perfumista protegee Louise and several of her friends, while wearing L'Ombre Fauve. The whole party couldn't stop sniffing my wrist, having clearly succumbed to the perfume's animal magnetism, which proved more irresistible than even the dates wrapped in bacon and dainty morsels of chorizo."

Schankwirtschaft (now sadly closed) ~ Source: eventinc.de

So there we have it, a cheaper, smaller format alternative to the PG at just £25 for 30ml, or £4.95 for a Tiny Fragrance sample. Just remember to behave when you wear it.

Source: Lush UK

And as it happens, the set that night included a song called "Walking With The Beast". ;)

Monday, 13 June 2022

Do-not-follow: my abortive brush with the world of affiliate marketing, and a "no comment(s)" apology

Source: Creative Commons ~ Nick Youngson, Alpha Stock Images

From time to time I receive unsolicited approaches from PR people working for perfume brands, sometimes offering me product samples - often in expectation of a review - sometimes asking if I would feature a guest post by them (invariably on the most off-topic of products, far more so than my own thematic digressions on Bonkers, which is saying a lot ;)), and occasionally asking if I would enter into some kind of affiliate marketing arrangement, whereby I would link to a particular website of a perfume I had been reviewing, and if readers clicked on it - or actually bought the product! - I might be remunerated in some way.

Taking these overtures in turn, I have always insisted that I won't write perfume reviews as a quid pro quo for free stuff, and would rather not receive samples in the first place if I sense any pressure in that regard. For when I do feel moved to write a review of something it is because I have thought of my own slightly sideways angle to the subject matter. 

Case in point:

"If you're interested in trying out the products, then I'd love to send you some samples to test and create a 'Christmas Gift Guide' with on your blog."

To which the only possible Bonkers reply was:

"I write about things I come across when the spirit moves me, so there is no guarantee I would feature them and if I did it wouldn't be in the form of anything like a Christmas Gift Guide."

And this, directly from a new perfume house, in an email entitled "I'd like to partner":

"Meantime, we would love to mail you demos and brochures of our recent products for you to evaluate if they fit in with your strategic plans."

I appreciated his conditional use of "if", but it was still a conditional response from me:

"Thank you for your inquiry. I don't have any strategic plans! I would be curious to try any scents you have available in very small samples quantities only, but I don't enter into partnerships or promise to review everything I have been sent. I have to like a fragrance and be inspired by some aspect to want to write a blog post about it. If you are still interested on that basis, let me know."

Radio silence.

And here are some of the more unusual product review requests - I have called the woman in question "Rebecca" rather than her real name:

"This is Rebecca from ****. I’m writing to you to see if our best-selling products 82% Merino Wool Socks and 100% Egyptian Cotton Bath Towels can be featured in your 2021 holiday gift guide." 

What's this obsession with gift guides?

"This is Rebecca from ****. I’m contacting you to see if you’d be interested in writing something about **** Carbon e-bike --- a full carbon e-bike known as one of the smartest e-bikes on the market."

Source: humandiaries.com

This is Rebecca from ****, here. I’m very honored to introduce **** 100% Egyptian Cotton Bath Towel to you. Giza 86 (The top 10% of Long-staple Egyptian Cotton), 720 GSM, OEKO-TEX certified, super-thick and super-fluffy, **** Bath Towels encase you in a high-weight terry luxury that feels like you're lounging in a bathrobe waiting for room service."

Are you also getting the feeling that this may be one and the same Rebecca? She is really pushing those bath towels...And I must admit to being quite tempted by the idea of "high-weight terry luxury". ;)

As for guest posts on the blog, I have never had these in the 12+ years I've been going, for what I can only describe as curious Protestant work ethic reasons - I feel that as it is my blog, I should do all the work involved, though I realise this is an odd way to look at things, and that many of my fellow bloggers have several contributors on board.

Then as regards the affiliate marketing angle, I once dabbled very briefly in such a venture with Ormonde Jayne - it may have been longer, but it felt like all of five minutes, for no sooner had I set up the link in question, than there was a change of PR company and the link was promptly broken(!). I didn't earn a penny from that association - and given the low traffic volumes on here, may never have done, hehe.**

And so we come onto the most recent approach, from a US-based media company. The conversation went like this, where PRP = PR Person!

PRP: "I recently came across your website and noticed that you are linking to a similar page that (sic) one of our clients', and I'm wondering if you could add a link to an article for a reasonable fee?

My marketing budget is what it is, but hopefully, we can agree on an amount of money that makes it worthwhile for you to take a few minutes to add one more link to the article." [The offer for "link insertion" was $30, with a similar amount on the table for a guest post - which I declined smartish.]

ME: "Which article are you thinking of? I am open to adding a link, depending on the context / circumstances?"

PRP: "In the near future, we'd like to contact you with that information ready, for you to approve the do-follow link. The link and content would always be related to your existing blog post. Would that be OK?

PS: If you agree, please send your PayPal address and confirm that this is the best email to contact you in the near future."
ME: "I think the links would be do-follow - I am not very tech savvy, so I doubt I would have set them to something else. I don't have guest posts, so this would just be a link insertion on a post of mine - you have yet to tell me which one, so my agreement is subject to knowing that last bit of information."

PRP "We'll make sure to be in touch with our batch of links!

Also, keep in mind that after placing either an anchor or requesting a guest post, our team will always come back to follow up on our insertions' conditions. We will check if our anchors are still where we asked you to place them and are still do-follow tagged."

ME: "Just to check - you spoke in your first email of "a link", and "a similar page", so I assumed it was a one off? I don't want to have many links in one post that could look out of keeping with my normal way of doing things, which is one at most per post, if that?"

Who knew there was such a thing as "our insertions' conditions"? :) The whole exchange felt like talking to a bot...and I never heard from them again either.

So that was that. And while I am on the subject of blog housekeeping, I would like to apologise to any readers who left me a comment since the end of February(!). I experienced an absolutely "spam storm" about a week ago, which upset me so much that I went into the gubbins of the blog and started deleting pages of them at a time in a fit of panic. I didn't really need to, as I don't believe any of the comments in question had managed to get themselves published, but it was distressing to see this veritable blizzard of unwanted spam comments in my feed. What I think must have happened is that a whole bunch of legitimate comments from readers were included on one particular page I deleted en masse, but must have been out of "scrolling view" on my phone, as it were, and I accidentally vaporised them all. I am so very sorry, as there was a lot of collective time and thought involved in the leaving of them in the first place, and I will ensure it never happens again. So please don't be scared to comment here in future!

Lastly, it might amuse you to see one of a number of wrongly addressed emails I receive:

Hello abottledrose,

Get noticed in search results, You must have a responsive web design with advanced layout and search engine friendly design.

We can review and offer you a better design to allow brands to stand out among competitors

Well, personally I don't think there is anything amiss with the design of A Bottled Rose, but this company's punctuation leaves much to be desired.

I also got them for a long time addressed to the Non-Blonde, while she was still with us, at least.

Dear thenonblonde.com Team

Hope you are doing well.

I thought you might like to know some reasons why you are not getting enough website hits/visitors and conversion.

Till I could take it no more:


**Editor's Note: I have since had a catch up with the PR from Ormonde Jayne (see her comment below), and we have established that though she took up the role in 2003, there was a period of five years when she left OJ, before returning to the company in 2017. And my short-lived affiliate association was in 2013, when a different PR person would have been in the chair, with a different approach to marketing and social media. Since this lady's return in 2017, however, Ormonde Jayne has not entered into any kind of paid collaboration with bloggers.

Sunday, 5 June 2022

The smell of disrepair: my stay at The Hylands Hotel - like Fawlty Towers, only faultier

It has been a while since I wrote a travel-related post, which is perhaps surprising, as I have been doing a fair bit of travelling lately. After a recent experience in Coventry - to which I went willingly, I might add, I wasn't sent there - I felt just such a post well up in me, on account of the extraordinary hotel in which I stayed. It was basically all the fault of Ed Sheeran, who happened to be on the bill that day as part of a BBC Big Weekend festival; some 80,000 music fans had descended on the city, snapping up all the decent accommodation. A fact that was rubbed in the moment I stepped out of the railway station and spied a digital screen that toggled between "BBC Big Weekend" and "This Way", over a big arrow pointing to the left. 

The band I was there to see (no prizes for guessing who) could have done with an equivalent sign really, to shepherd their own fans - plus any last minute punters not enamoured of the blockbusting ginger one - in the direction of the repurposed coal tunnel by a canal where their gig was being held.

I stopped by the Visitors Centre outside the station first of all to pick up a map of the town centre, and fell into conversation with the lady fielding questions from new arrivals. Right off the bat she asked me where I was staying, and I replied: "Oh, I'd rather not say, because it is so wretched." "Ah, I know where that is then...hmm, it is certainly tired-looking...but you should be safe enough. Well, why don't you come back tomorrow and tell me how you got on?" I wondered at the time whether her solicitousness and request for a vital sign from me the next day might have concealed a genuine concern for my well-being, and promptly tried to discount the thought.

"Where moss may safely grow"

The hotel was a short walk from the station: a sprawling white stucco building, with a peeling paint problem so pronounced that I was reminded of an albino snake sloughing off its skin. As I checked in, I inquired whether I could have a "quiet room". The amiable man on reception threw his head back and guffawed, which I took to mean no. He said he would do his best though to pick out a room not noted for being within earshot of the bar, or other areas where people congregate (as in "fight").

Without further ado I will fast forward to my review on Booking.com, which I found quite cathartic to write, I must say...

Even Truffle is not this bad 

A very rum place!, but a bargain on a Saturday night for those with a strong constitution


It was with great trepidation that I approached my stay at The Hylands on account of all the awful reviews on here and Tripadvisor, not least because I was a woman travelling alone. It was the only hotel left in Coventry that had not been booked out by festival goers and in fact it met my expectations exactly, albeit they were very low! Special mention goes to the fantastic staff, notably Naseem(?) and Jad, who went above and beyond to be helpful and to watch out for me. They really should be working in a superior establishment as their customer service ethic was second to none. I also found the bed comfortable and the sheets clean, which is a very important point, although the pillows were a little firm for my liking. The bathroom was a bit dysfunctional - namely that the shower switch wouldn't stay in position, meaning I got an intermittent dribble of hot water - but it was better than I expected, and the water was very hot. If I had brought my own plug I could even have had a luxurious bath ;), so that is something to think of another time.

Stylish, if torn and grubby?


Ah, where to begin...filthy torn furniture, sets of drawers with no drawers, ripped carpet, bits of fluff everywhere, moss on windows, weird sticky black marks on a table, no milk for tea, no hangers for clothes - I ended up draping mine over the TV, after giving it a quick dust. But I was ready for this - and more.

What even are these?

The wonderful guy on reception did his best to give me a quiet room and it was quiet in the afternoon, but I was disturbed in the night by repeated knocking on the room next door and people raking around the corridors, also by the sound of the man next door's mobile phone. I did half wonder if he might have been running a little shop of some kind. I also encountered a man staggering down the stairs off his head on something, while outside there were a couple of guys stationed by the gate with bulging bum bags, who I suspect may not have been car park attendants.

Editor's note: I did wonder if the executive rooms might have had hangers and milk, along with mossless windows that fully closed.

I mentioned above that the hotel staff were extremely friendly and helpful: a further example of this was their being kind enough to put the remains of my noodle dinner in a bar fridge overnight, so I could take my doggy bag home the next day. They also reunited a lost mobile phone with its owner: one of the other guests had found it on the ground outside and brought it into reception. The amiable bloke gave another guffaw, and remarked: "We don't usually get people handing in phones, haha!"

No hangers, but extra pillows!, and is that by any chance a safe?

Also in slight mitigation of the place is the fact that it didn't actually smell bad to my nose, as some guests have reported in their many entertaining reviews on both Booking.com and Tripadvisor. There was even a pleasantly fruity air freshener / disinfectant-type scent in one of the corridors. I suppose if I had buried my nose in the upholstery of the sofa it might have had a rather fusty odour, but it was enough already to dare to leave my coat on it.

Would I stay at The Hylands again...? Er, no, not if I could help it, even though the saving versus the usual chains was very significant - I paid just £36 compared with £107 for the Ramada, say, had it not been fully booked. I was pleased that I survived though - and on my birthday to boot! - it felt like a strange kind of coup...and the guy in the mirror never did get his sushi.

If you are feeling brave...

Friday, 27 May 2022

Katie Puckrik's tales of perfume and persona - featuring the sniffs of The Smiths and a Bonkers quote

Illustration by Lydia Silver

Perfume expert and multi-media personality Katie Puckrik has written a feature in this week's Evening Standard magazine, in which she reminisces about wearing Revlon Intimate, a raunchy animalic floral pinched from her mother's dressing table; it made her feel all grown up and ready for the sort of carnal capers that my father used to collectively - and disapprovingly - dub "filthy slop". 

"Wearing Intimate was my introduction to the power of perfume to transform dubious raw material into the person I was nowhere near being."

Katie goes on to explore this theme of "wear the perfume and you can be the perfume" with the help of fellow contributors Denyse Beaulieu, Tania Sanchez, Sali Hughes, Alison Goldfrapp, and Johnny Marr. And there is even a quote from yours truly - I am not accustomed to being in such august company!

What tickled me most about the feature was the inclusion of Johnny Marr's perfume MO. So okay, one Smith rather than the sniffs of the whole band, as the title of this post might suggest. For as I may have mentioned before, Johnny Marr and Morrissey bonded over a shared appreciation of The Monochrome Set, and were influenced by their music when they formed The Smiths. They went on to become much more famous and commercially successful, and then many years later, in one of those strange twists of fate, The Monochrome Set found themselves supporting Johnny Marr at a festival gig in Bognor Regis, which I attended. Those meringue peak canopies at Butlin's are hard to forget. So given my own close association with TMS, it struck me that there is a curious and amusing parallel in my now randomly "sharing a bill" with Johnny Marr in an article on perfume!

And at that gig in Bognor, I wore the punch-packing Salome by Papillon Perfumery, following a visit to Liz Moores' house in the afternoon. Salome perfectly illustrates the notion of trying to assume a ballsy persona that may be a little incongruous or too big for one's boots. I let the band sniff it on me as well as one of Liz's raw ingredients, African stone - here is an extract from a post about that day.

"The band duly sniffed both the remnants of Salome AND the African Stone, intrigued by my explanation that it was the fossilised excrement of the rock hyrax, an animal I tried to big up by likening it to a robust yet endearing variant on the guinea pig. They continued to chew thoughtfully on slices of the family size pepperoni pizza several of us were sharing, and didn't bat an eyelid - or flare a nostril in disgust.

Now my wearing of actual African Stone may have been a lifetime one off, but in the light of this rock 'n' roll nonchalance in the face of the ne plus ultra of poo, I plan to wear Salome to the next gig without a backward glance..."

I shan't give away any more spoilers to Katie's article, which is full of memorable stories and insights into the transformative potential of perfume, so do check it out!

The Monochrome Set in sadly small print!

NB Note the perfume blotters tucked into the programme...;)