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. 

Mid-January...






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]




Friday, 5 February 2021

Evening in (plaster of) Paris: the soothing scent of goo and Tubigrip



Guest post by voice recognition

"There is no such thing as hazardous conditions - only inappropriate footwear."

On the wall of our local hospital's A & E department are two pinboards covered in posters: one takes dementia as its theme, while the other is all about the very real risk of falls. One such poster has a Highway Code-style warning triangle with a stick figure in the act of slipping and the caption: "Falls Aware". The other has a more detailed cartoon of a man falling downstairs and the caption: "One in three older adults fall each year". In a neat graphical flourish, even the letters in 'fall' are falling.

So yes... I realise now that I should have gone to hospital first, clocked the posters, and then decided not to go for a walk that evening. That would have been the better order of events, no question. Instead, I walked six and a half thousand steps to a friend's house and back to deliver something, and it only took one of those steps to be ill-judged. The day before I had walked 18,000 steps safely on freshly powdered snow in a beautiful Narnia-like winter wonderland, but that fateful night I made the mistake of confusing slush with an ice rink.

The next afternoon, after a sleepless night of boiling hot pain I would characterise as just south of agony, I was sitting in a socially distanced way in A & E, waiting to have my wrist X-rayed for a suspected fracture (on the advice of a former paramedic attached to my GP's surgery). It did not escape my notice that the few other people also waiting were mostly women of my age, some wearing makeshift slings, who had clearly not read the posters either in advance of coming.

Two hours later saw me done and dusted with a temporary plaster cast, and after two days and a further review I was downrated to a removable splint, which is almost as constricting as the plaster, but does allow me to wash the wrist once a day. When she saw my original cast, my friend Gillie exclaimed: "Oh dear, you won't be able to have people write on it because of the lockdown!"





I ended up only spending two Evenings in (plaster of) Paris, and I must say I really liked the smell of the creamy goo, such as I could catch it in between the light layers of mesh. The Tubigrip underslip inside my current splint is similarly comforting - a strong medical fabric smell. After all, people do say that oud smells a bit like Band-Aid, so medical scents are far from without precedent. As it happens, I used to have a vintage miniature of Bourjois Soir de Paris, which (once I managed to wrench the top off) I recall as a simple, watery, sweet, very full-on kitchen sink floral, very much of its time and not something I would wear. I have more of an affinity to Eau de Tubigrip in fact, which has a strong woody quality to it like the pencil shaving Dzonga! of my rather faint memory.

A week has passed since I was fitted with this other splint and the pain has started to ease, I am happy to report. The hand remains floppy and pale, with a disconcerting tendency to list 45 degrees to the right as soon as it is released from its protective housing, but less pain feels like progress.



Pain aside, having one usable arm in a lockdown situation is a bit of a double whammy: I have agreed with ex-Mr Bonkers that he will come and help change my bedding, which really needs it now!, under the guise of an ad hoc domiciliary carer, hehe, for I don't see much difference between my incapacitated position and someone needing a district nurse to come into their home and change a dressing on a bedsore.

That said, I have learned to do a myriad of things for myself in unconventional ways, deploying a random assortment of body parts to take the place of my left hand. For example, I have ground pepper holding the mill in my armpit, opened sachets with my teeth, held a box grater under my chin, and peeled a carrot on the worktop jammed into my navel at 90 degrees...rather like a disorientated...no, I shan't say what...;)

Several things continue to defeat me completely: operating a wine saver vacuum pump - oh dear, I had to drink the wine instead, how awful! - using a knife and fork, operating a tin opener, and most actions involving squeezing.

The other night a friend dropped by on a spontaneous visit and happened to mention that her husband had fallen on more or less the same patch of ice as me(!), which makes me feel less foolish; luckily she had caught him and helped to break his fall. 

My friend was of immense help doing two squeezing assignments: of a facial cleanser that was in a pump bottle I could not get to work as it was a bit close to the end and harder to activate, plus a tube of moisturizer, which similarly was near the end and needed rolling and flattening to coax the not insubstantial dregs out. She did a fantastic job of both on my doorstep into the little pots I had provided - it was quite surreal...




Unsurprisingly, I am banned from knitting for the foreseeable, though I am hoping that the hobby might come back in the form of physical therapy later. I find it ironic that my bone may be knitting together as I type, but I must sadly resist the all too familiar urge. Maybe this is Nature's way of telling me that making 36 speculative scarves for nobody in particular is quite enough already. 

I have also learnt to carry on doing certain things but using the opposite hand to the one I normally use, which is of course completely counterintuitive. Do you know which hand you squeeze the toothpaste with, or peel a satsuma, or take strands out of your hair brush with after blow drying your hair? It was something of a revelation, because I never realized which hand I favoured for those specific actions until one of them was not available to me.

In my present state just a few tasks take me most of the morning now, and it occurred to me that this must be not unlike how it is to have a new baby: your world collapses down and revolves completely around the needs of your child; you snatch 20 minutes while it is sleeping to do the things you need to for yourself, like take a shower or whatever. Similarly here my world has dramatically shrunk and my whole focus 24/7 is on keeping my hand immobilized, elevated and dry - or it was to start with when it was in plaster. I can wash it now, as I say, and I also have to wiggle my fingers and make a fist periodically so I don't lose the ability over time. ;)

The bone I have injured is the scaphoid, a very common occurrence apparently in FOOSH incidents (Falls On Outstretched Hand). There is some disagreement between the medics in A & E and the consultant at the Fracture Clinic as to whether it is visibly fractured now, or an occult fracture that may appear by the time of my next review, or not a fracture at all. I don't stand on diagnoses, haha, and the treatment is the same anyway, for possible fractures of the wrist are notoriously Will-o'-the-Wisp-like in their evasive behaviour. Plus the X-ray the consultant showed me was quite different from the one I had seen in A & E, but I was too polite to ask if it was definitely the same hand.



On a side note, I was struck by how much the bones of the wrist resemble a drystone wall. Plus I have learnt the incomparable term 'anatomical snuffbox', which is the bit below the thumb that hurts. It was almost worth falling on ice to learn that gem...oh okay, maybe not quite.

I must insist on no sympathy from readers(!). I had already fallen three times in a single day at the start of January as you may recall, and should have known better than to think Wellingtons were adequately grippy in these conditions. I was lucky to have got away with minor injuries on that occasion, for at this age you are liable to do yourself more mischief and take longer to heal.

But yes, I do commend Eau de Tubi-Grip to anyone not familiar with that scent - it really is a thing.


Editor's note: This post has been brought to you by voice recognition, aided by a bit of one fingered editing. I am a touch typist, and it was all I could do to stop my bad hand joining in when the stretch across the keyboard became comically extended. Fittingly, my left hand most wanted to help out with the letters 'A' & 'E', though I did try to explain that it really needs to rest and not engage in even low impact tapping...





Bone diagram from healthjade.com, whole hand image from anatomyqa.com



Sunday, 24 January 2021

Nicky Elite: a fine functional fragrance find in Farmfoods!


Geographical advisory: this post concerns a particular version of a paper product destined for the smallest room in the house, which may not be available outside the UK. This pitches the appeal of my post to an estimated four readers - well, four that I know of - but that has never stopped me from writing about topics close to my heart before. Or close to my...hmm...I think I would rather not spell it out.

During the pandemic, I have consciously tried to shop in an eclectic mix of food retailers, often at odd times of day, to avoid people. That is a pretty doomed undertaking, given that shopping for essentials is one of the very few extra-curricular things any of us can do at the moment. I heard a rumour that Dunelm Mill was open for the sale of what my friend dubbed 'essential cushions' and sundry bits and bobs to accessorise your home, yet I feel sure that the chewing gum by the tills cannot magically have morphed them into a food retailer.

My repertoire of shops currently comprises (in loose order of importance): the Co-op convenience store round the corner (but not when neighborhood Covid case numbers suddenly spike, as they periodically do!), Lidl, surgical strikes on M & S near closing time to bag the yellow sticker items), Home Bargains, B & M, Farmfoods, and Sainsbury's (Christmas only). I may have to venture as far as Stoke soon to pick up my books from my accountant (a legally permitted work reason!), which would put me in the orbit of an Aldi, but we'll see.

Anyway, back to Farmfoods. What is Farmfoods, I hear most of the four of you say? I could call it 'the poor relation of Iceland', though that would be unfair, and not the outright paradox you might think. For ex-Mr Bonkers tells me that Iceland has really come on in recent years, and that their Italian-themed celebrity chef-fronted ready meals knock M & S out of the park! Farmfoods is a Birmingham-based Scottish chain - yes, another apparent contradiction there - of 300 stores, dominated by frozen products, but based on my own observation with 30-50% ambient goods too. The company's belief in frozen food is impressively sweeping:

"Our specialism is frozen food and we believe passionately that frozen food is the best solution for most family meals."



The store is very well (as in unkindly) lit - not the place you'd want to go on a bad hair or skin day, say. It is very sparsely attended by shoppers (which is good), and has a slightly sad atmosphere, not unlike Lidl in its early days here, but with the stock in serried ranks of refrigerated cabinets instead of big cardboard boxes - or 'outers' as they are known in the trade. If like me you need to be a thrifty shopper these days, I commend the store to you...for specific things, as with Home Bargains and B & M - and as with M & S in fact, but at the other end of the scale in fanciness terms.

Before moving on to the nub of the story, I will briefly mention Farmfoods' three for a quid offers on biscuits, including Fox's, a similar one on chick peas, and the delicious Mackie's honeycomb chocolate for something like 79p, not forgetting the staggeringly good offers on 48 eggs, should you ever need that quantity. They are usually kept just inside the door, where there is a very real risk some unsuspecting punter will step on them on their way in. Yes, there are truly legions of bargains besides these - though perhaps avoid their grapes, which may turn to moist mouldy mush before you reach your car - but as with that item-recalling bit at the end of The Generation Game my mind has gone blank beyond the ones I have mentioned. Oh, and of course the very subject of the post, Nicky Elite. Well, paper products generally are a bargain there - including my beloved kitchen roll, of which I need to have at least six rolls in or I start to feel nervous.

Ooh look, I mentioned them in that interview with Birgit of Olfactoria Travels I referenced in my last post, and back then I see it was only two rolls, which tells you everything you need to know about rising anxiety levels in a global pandemic.

Staying with my last post for a moment, in my answers to those questions I lamented the way in which manufacturers subtly tinker with the formulation of products, usually in an adverse direction. We have all experienced this to our collective chagrin with perfume, and it is going on in lots of other product categories these days, as companies try different ways of skinning a profit, as it were. One key arena for this de-specing is loo roll - or 'toilet tissue' as I should call it, but won't, as 'tissue' sounds so prissy in our scatological context. Yes, Andrex, the soft behemoth of my whole life till recently - apart from my early childhood, when the evil apology for greaseproof paper, Izal, was the order of the day, or as I say, latterly, though thankfully to a lesser extent - has changed. It has several variants...oh my goodness, more than I thought - or thought even possible!

Gentle Clean (with puppies on it - fortunately no canine tongue action is involved in the cleaning process)

Classic Clean (their 'bog standard' version)

Natural Pebble (with a touch of cotton and no pebbles)

Supreme Quilts (I shudder at the mention of quilts)

Skinkind (with 'Cleanripple' texture and 'soft soothe prebiotic lotion' - WTF?)

Touch of Care (with a touch of lavender 'for that spa-like feeling' - ?!!)

Right, so whatever happened to old Andrex? You know, the soft, thinnish style of paper with a slightly raised line top and bottom like a margin. I have only tried the top two variants: Gentle Clean is fairly soft in fairness, but I really don't want puppies, while Classic Clean is definitely too rough. Strangely, I don't believe any of the above products contain recycled fibres, which was my first thought to explain the roughness. I would be interested to know if you have any experience of these or the other varieties, which in my view have completely gratuitous and counterproductive bells and whistles.

Now I do have some professional experience of 'toilet tissue' manufacture (eek, it slipped out!), having done a job on combined heat and power systems, which are used by manufacturers with water-intensive processes like paper making and brewing. I visited factories all over the country with the requisite technical characteristics, but it is the toilet paper and beer ones I remember. One of the former was in Cumbria, and rejoiced in the name of Iggesund; one was near Sheffield, and one on Deeside. The makers of Andrex were in Kent as I recall, but my memory is fuzzy as to whether I went there too. But anyway, that was only about 1991(!), so thirty years ago, and diddly squat help to me here. I have come very close to writing to Andrex since I noticed the demise of the classic design with the lines top and bottom, but never quite felt moved enough. So here I am blogging about it instead.

Then in my quest to find an acceptable replacement, I haven't actually looked very far, so again, all tips gratefully received. I have tried Cushelle (too thick, not that soft really, plus I don't want koalas on it either!), and Nicky Elite, these being the two brands that most frequently pop up on forums such as Mumsnet. Nicky Elite has the benefit of being ridiculously cheap, while being on a par in roughness terms with Andrex Classic Clean, say, which even has a similar pattern of little perforations. Though imho Nicky is too thicky, like Cushelle.




Nicky, though, has an added fragrance, which I would normally avoid like the plague (sorry if that is a sore point just now), but which turns out to be the best bit of Nicky the toilet paper. For it is a wistful powdery scent that reminds me vividly of Floris Snow Rose (my review here), or some other retro Floris scent in that vein - Winter Rose, the alleged wedding perfume of The Queen? No, that was sharper on account of its carnation note, so I will stick with my Snow Rose comparison, sketchy as it may be.

I see that the brand Nicky belongs to the Sofidel Group, headquartered just outside Lucca, Italy, but with 17 plants in 12 countries worldwide, including two in the USA (Ohio and Oklahoma), so I have no idea where my 18 roll packet was made. Sofidel also make the Regina and Thirst Pockets brands of kitchen roll, a paper product category about the texture of which I am strangely relaxed by comparison, happy to buy both the useless cheapies that can't soak up a drop of spit and the luxuriously layered varieties that are so stiff they could double up as absorbent kitchen flooring.

But yes, the fragrance of Nicky Elite - another bizarre juxtaposition given our subject matter! ;) - is more fine than functional. Elite, even! Yes, I would go so far as to say that Nicky Elite is almost more functional as a fine fragrance than a loo roll, hehe. And given that they discontinued Snow Rose a while back, I can't be quite sure it is that perfume Nicky reminds me of, but even if it is a false memory it is a good one.

Have you found the perfect loo roll? Have you braved the texture of recycled, perhaps?

And if you have tried Nicky Elite, do you think the scent is like a wistful whiff of something by Floris?


(Photo of a tottering pile of Nicky Elite I spotted in Home Bargains yesterday, but you can even buy them in Ocado! Farmfoods logo by Xeepo via Wikimedia Commons, Snow Rose photo via Flickr.)