Tuesday 27 February 2024

Jeff & Co (Jeff Banks) women's perfume dupes at Home Bargains, and how I couldn't resist Temptation...

I am a regular shopper in the discount chain Home Bargains, much as I am in B & M, which is a similar cheap and cheerful purveyor of just about anything short of a full food shop. Home Bargains is my go-to destination for cheap firewood, Poppets, rhubarb yoghurt, cat soup, and kitchen towel (which regular readers know is of the utmost importance to me). On any given visit where I am typically going in for just one thing, I will of course come out with armfuls of items I never knew I needed. But as the whole lot will have been unbelievably cheap - and I will of course need more Elastoplast, paracetamol, washing up sponges, and turmeric glucosamine chondroitin supplements in the fullness of time, it really doesn't matter.

And thus it was that I went to Home Bargains yesterday looking for a specific gauge and style of interdental floss picks, and came out with mini Easter eggs to restock my mock Faberge egg (as you do) and a hand of bananas, no floss sticks, and a chunky bottle of perfume by Jeff & Co, called Blush. It is a whopping 90ml for £4.99, and there are three other scents in the range: Lush and Seductive (also in pink bottles), and Temptation, in a less girly mauve-y grey / taupe one. Why three of the four should be in pink packaging beats me. Okay, so Lush could be described as more of a beige colour, but they are still all quite similar. It had clearly confused the punters, as the two definite pinks, Blush and Seductive, were mixed up together in the decidedly basic(!) cardboard display tray. I sorted them out again and told a passing sales assistant that I had done that, plus an instinctive spot of "facing up", for which she thanked me.

I should mention that this wasn't a random encounter with the brand: I had seen a feature about them in The Sun - on social media, I hasten to add - which claimed that they were all dupes of well known designer perfumes, namely:

Blush ~ Miss Dior

Lush - Armani Si

Seductive - Givenchy L'Interdit

Temptation - Tom Ford Black Orchid

It has been a while since I got really curious about a new bargain basement range of perfumes - the last time was probably a set of Acqua di Parma knock offs in Aldi, but neither store in my town carried those, so I never did get to try them. I was especially intrigued by the thought of a Black Orchid smell-alike, which is what propelled me to seek the Jeff & Co range out. The fragrances are made in Turkey, I note, which adds a bit of exoticism to their provenance.

Another key thing to mention is the fact that these perfumes have no boxes, so every bottle on the fixture is a potential tester, haha. I think the store should have designated one bottle of each fragrance to be a tester, with a label on it, so it is clearly identifiable. However, given the vast quantity in each, and the price, no prospective customer could possibly mind the fact that 25 other people might have had a spray or several from their bottle already. ;)

A word on the packaging next, whose squareness and squatness reminded me of the Maison Kurkdjian range, but in an opaque version. I am sure Francis wouldn't thank me for the comparison. I am not a fan of opaque bottles, as you know - to the point of including them in my "Scent Crimes Series" - but I will let that pass. I have more of a beef these days with their weight and chunkiness, making them hard to lift and spray from, while the sharp edges dig into my arthritic fingers. I am sure that will prove to be a minor issue, however, amongst the intended target market of much younger women than me(!). But it is definitely a tricky business to wrap your hand round the bottle and operate the nozzle, or I find it so.

Before I get down to what I thought of these scents, I must just tell you about a YouTube video, in which the vlogger describes all four perfumes as "nice". Nothing more, just nice. I have never considered myself a proper reviewer , but maybe there is hope for me yet.

And what of Jeff Banks, I hear you ask? Well, when I first heard the name, my first thought was that that was an unexpected venture from a goalie, before quickly realising that that was Gordon Banks. Here is a bit about the correct Banks from Wikipedia:

"Jeff Banks CBE PPCSD (born Jeffrey Tatham-Banks, 17 March 1943) is a Welsh fashion designer of men's and women's clothing, jewellery, and home furnishings. Born in Ebbw Vale, Wales, Banks co-founded the fashion chain Warehouse in the late 1970s. He later created and presented the television programme The Clothes Show, broadcast on BBC One from 1986 to 2000."

I never knew he was born a Tatham-Banks! That would be quite a mouthful to put on the side of even these generously-sized bottles. I think I once owned an item of crockery by him, or some dinner mats, but I can't remember what exactly. He is over 80 now I see, and still coming up with line extensions, so fair play to him. I am sure he can't need the money, so perhaps the launch of this bargain range of fragrances is part philanthropic venture.

By Chris Phutully from Australia

Finally, on to what they smell like...

Seductive - I honestly couldn't really smell this, it was so faint. If it is like Givenchy L'Interdit, which I haven't tried for years, it will be in homeopathic proportions.

Lush - also very faint. I thought I could just catch a whiff of blackcurrant, which would be consistent with its being a dupe of Armani Si, but it was a bit elusive.

Temptation - this was much more detectable. On the first pass, I thought Temptation was like a disagreeable sort of mentholated blackcurrant sweet. I was also reminded of my description of YSL Parisienne as "disgruntled purple talc". Oh, look at that post I have linked to - the bottles of The Social parfum are also hard plastic and partly pink!

Blush - my nose registered this one okay: it was a pretty, girlish summer floral (woody musk) that reminded me of Hugo Boss Femme. I haven't tested Miss Dior either in forever, but I could well believe it was a copy of that, having looked at the notes, even though it was Femme I thought of off the bat. Femme being a mainstream fragrance I cut my newbie teeth on at the start of this hobby, so it holds a special place in my memory, if not in my collection anymore. We are not privy to the notes of Blush, but I think I picked up lily-of-the valley in there, as per Miss Dior, and the general atmosphere of the composition is light and sherbety and innocent. And yes I  know, wildly ironic for someone not far off the state pension. I walked out with Blush all the same, because I hadn't got past Temptation's cough sweet opening, and was so excited that I could actually smell it compared to its pink stablemates.

NB Maybe the secret is simply to spray a shedload more than I usually do - goodness knows there is enough juice to allow for extravagant application!

Soon the base of clean musk ramps up a bit in Blush, on which I am less keen, albeit I am hyperosmic to musks. The powderiness has echoes of Cartier's Baiser Volé, though it is more to the fore in that scent. Blush still retains its "pretty" vibe, which I fully admit is not much of an improvement on "nice". 

I went home, but the comparison of Temptation to Black Orchid continued to niggle away at my brain. I quite like Black Orchid and admire its quirkiness, and hey...£4.99! I remembered there being only one bottle left of it too, so a couple of hours later I found myself back in Home Bargains, where I succumbed to Temptation, and also scored a bumper pack of loo roll and three caramel Kit-Kats.

And I am glad I did, because after the strange cough sweet and licorice-like opening, Temptation turned out to be a lot less weird and medicinal; now it was reminiscent of Calvin Klein Euphoria or indeed Black Orchid - both scents share an almost sickly, sultry quality, and there's a darkness to them both. But it is all very attenuated in Temptation, which is only to be expected I guess from such a budget scent, though these are stated as being edp strength. All in all, I don't regret my purchases, and half wondered if Temptation in particular might become a cult item one day and fetch a load of money on eBay, hehe.

And I am sorry I didn't spray more of Lush and Seductive on myself in store, even if that might have raised an eyebrow amongst the staff. They may well have turned out to be good dupes of the Armani and Givenchy, if only I had saturated my arm in them.

As for lasting power, it is hard to say as I may not have sprayed enough to start with, so do not take my word for it. Blush is still going after six hours, while Temptation is more of a gentle murmur. If you wanted a scent that lasted all day, it wouldn't really be practical though to carry these weighty bottles around with you to reapply at intervals.

In conclusion, if you live anywhere within range of a Home Bargains, do have a spray of these, then spray some more to make sure, and report back! Remember, every bottle is a tester... ;)

Friday 26 January 2024

From "Dead man in garage" to "Rather odd boyfriend": tantalising snippets from my mother's book book

Today is the 25th anniversary of my mother's death. This isn't going to be a tribute post as such - I have already written one of those, on the occasion of the 11th anniversary. It is true, however, that an item belonging to my mother has inspired this post...to wit, her book log / book diary? / book book?!. This is a small hardbacked notebook in which she used to write down every title she had read in recent years. I don't know how far it goes back exactly, as there are no dates next to the entries, but she was clearly jotting things down in it right up till her death. (I will explain how I know in a bit...)

Taking a leaf out of my mother's book (no pun intended), I have kept a similar record myself for the past 15 years, and have been reading quite a lot lately. Michael Mosley (the ubiquitous TV doctor) has included "reading fiction" in his list of "just one things" that are beneficial for our health - in this case because it supposedly staves off dementia. I must say I don't need any encouragement to pick up a book, unlike some of his other exhortations, such as cold water showers, playing video games, or fasting, but it is nice to know that reading is not simply a stimulating escape into other worlds, but good for the old grey matter. I do find it harder to follow plots now than I used to, mind. I get so far into a book and come across a reference to Dorothy's bad leg, say, when I have no recollection of who Dorothy is, never mind an issue with either of her legs; this invariably has me flicking back fifty pages to see if I can find an earlier reference I must have missed. 

I read 40 books last year in fact, and will mention some of my favourites here (they are not all fiction, to be fair). It is a pretty mixed bag...or, as the Germans say, "diagonally across the garden":

Bill Bryson - The Road To Little Dribbling

Dorothy Max Prior - 69 Exhibition Road 

David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty Some Day

Laurent Gounelle - Le Réveil

Philippa Perry - The Book You Want Everyone You Love To Read

Mitch Albom - For One More Day

Lionel Shriver - Should We Stay Or Should We Go?

Lucy Atkins - The Night Visitor

Shari Lapena - The Couple Next Door

Molly Keane - Loving And Giving

Going back to Mother's notebook, there were a few symbols to decipher: a tick means she has acquired a book, then the tick is turned into a cross when she has read it. 

She also writes where she heard about each title ("Times", "Telegraph", "S.T. (Sunday Times), "Spectator" - and occasionally me - "Van"), notes down the price, and often adds a comment. Some books my mother admits she didn't finish, and there are quite a few mentions of not being able to get into a story, or not being in the mood for a particular style of novel: I should add that she was ill throughout this period, and it is possible that the treatment she was undergoing could have affected her stamina / interests.

Without further ado, here is a selection of her intriguing mini-synopses ;):

"Lesbian's Foxy (sic) interspersed with torturing deaf boy next door."

"Set in E Coast resort. Moslems and murder. Stars Barbara Havers."

"19th C magician used by French to sabotage Algeria."

"US woman wanting to escape 4 men in family."

"NZ novel couldn't read."

"Dead sister - heroine seeks regression."

"18th C man who felt no pain." - I can recommend that one myself!, by Andrew Miller. Has a feel of The Miniaturist about it.

And finally:

"Women has three men but gets rid of them to Dublin."

I also chanced across a postcard I had sent my mother in March '86, where I am talking about a book she must have recommended to me - no idea what it was, though my curiosity is piqued now. 

"So glad Edith tore up the letter in the end - much better to have so small a ration of great happiness than a whole lifetime of mediocrity if she'd married that smug Swindon businessman!"

Then over Christmas I decided to see how many of the books featured in my mother's book book I had read myself, and interestingly there were a good 15 or so - we had similar taste it seems.

As for how I know the notebook was up-to-date, this is to do with one of the later entries,"The Breaker" by Minette Walters, which is marked as unread. I had sent it to my mother as a present, as it had just come out and hadn't yet reached the hospital library, and when I finally made it to the hospital in Oxford on the day she died, I spotted my handwriting on a parcel at the nurses' station. The book had arrived, but Mother had not opened it. I took it home with me again, but couldn't bring myself to broach it for a long time afterwards. The last book Mother finished was "Eleven Hours" by Paullina Simons, which was one of the titles we had in common. I bought a used copy the other day with a view to rereading it sometime...

Do you keep a book book / log / diary, and if so, what the heck do you call it? ;)

How many books a year are you managing to read, and what would be any recent top picks?

Friday 29 December 2023

Burning the end at both candles: Boujee Bougies Gilt and Elemis Regency Library - a "cold throw" mini-review, and coming up for air

This Christmas was a marked improvement on last year, when the months of trapped nerve pain in my neck managed to segue seamlessly into Covid. This year (apart from an alleged shadow on the lung, of which more anon) I was in much better shape, and de-stressed the big day by opting for a high welfare chicken rather than a turkey, not even one in a conveniently legless and bacon-draped format. I had to traipse round four supermarkets, mind, to find a chicken that had had anything remotely approaching a reasonable life, which was in itself a bit stressful. Also, the only one I could find in the end fed 7-8, and there were only three of us for dinner, including a vegetarian. Looking back, I would still declare the meal to have been a resounding success, because everything came together on time, notwithstanding the usual musical-baking-tins-on-oven-shelves malarkey; my perennially teetotal elderly friend downed two Snowballs, and the only thing I burnt was my hand. The day was additionally bookended by breakfast and supper at a friend's round the corner, and midnight saw me bin diving for lobster in the alley behind her house. With the owner's permission I should add, as she had found it texturally disappointing and overly labour-intensive, which is fair enough.

Then I don't know about you, but I always buy myself a clutch of small presents and put them unwrapped under the tree, as a sort of self-gifting comfort blanket, I suppose. (Did I say "gifting"?!? Feel free to take me out and shoot me, as I swore I never would never stoop to using the cringe-making verbified form.) This year my purchases included some socks, a box of Turkish Delight, which somehow managed to become two, a Thermos flask to replace the one I foolishly put soup in that smelt strongly of onions, several bars of sandalwood soap, a pre-owned pocket Filofax, an elephant key ring, and two candles. I had thought of buying a 30ml travel spray of Boujee Bougies Gilded on a blind basis (another shooting offence, as we all know!), but decided on balance that that was too risky, and defaulted to the safety of the smaller candle instead - a 60ml baby one in Gilt. I have only just caught up with the fact that the candle and perfume have different yet confusingly similar names, hehe, and Pia from Boujee Bougies kindly pointed out the distinction: 

"In Gilded perfume, the drydown smells similar to the hot throw of the candle. The top note of the perfume (of aldehydes and saffron) might seem startlingly different. Spice / aldehydes / incense / amber is the perfume."

So now I want to know what a hot throw is, and whether it is a point on the trajectory of a burning candle that you might easily miss, like an eclipse, or a meteor shower?

Aha, here we go...;)

"Hot throw: The term used to describe the strength of fragrance while a candle is burning. This evaluation is typically done after the candle has been burning for at least two hours but no more than four. Cold throw: In contrast, describes the strength of fragrance before a candle has been burned for the first time."

So all those times I have sniffed candles in T K Maxx, I have been smelling their cold throws!

Speaking of T K Maxx, that is where I bought the Elemis Regency Library candle. It retails at £42, but I got it for £19.99 as it was boxless. Not only that, but the label on the top was misspelt - the three fragrance notes were listed as Cade, Cedarwood and Sandlewood. My gain. So while the Elemis candle - or should that be candal?? - is nearly four times as big as the Boujee Bougies one, the Gilt mini does smell very refined and high end, or high altar indeed, for its scent is distinctly ecclesiastical. Its cold throw is so mesmerising in fact that I can't see how its hot one could top it. The Elemis is also a cut above most of the candles I sampled in T K Maxx - much as its spa body products are for that matter - but it is a "colder" scent, partly due I sense to its cooler blue label compared to the golden livery of the Gilt.

Now if I were a proper reviewer I would light them both and report back, but I can't bring myself to do that yet - I have other candles on the go I feel I should finish first, not least my Roja Dove one from years ago that I scored (rather aptly!) in some kind of fire sale. 

So instead I will reprise a selection of the intriguing things I learnt about candle usage from a previous purchase of Aldi's Jo Malone dupes - full post here:

"First and foremost, we are advised: "WARNING: CANDLES CAN CAUSE FIRES". Crikey, I would never have considered that. But that is just the start of it...We are also told:

"May produce an allergic reaction"

"Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects"

"Avoid release to the environment"

But hold on, how does one go about burning a candle in the first place without releasing its smoke / emissions to the 'environment' of one's living room? Or does the advice relate to the great outdoors? Are they saying it is okay to gas yourself and your goldfish quietly in the comfort and fragrant ambiance of your own home, but not to allow noxious particles to escape in your street for passers by to inhale? It's a conundrum. Interestingly, Red Roses is NOT deemed harmful to aquatic life. I just toss that titbit out there in case you were considering investing in a three pack and splitting it with friends. Give the fish owners the rose one, that would be the smart move."

The warning on the box of Gilt is along similar lines in terms of allergies, risk to fish and to the environment. I daresay it would be on the Regency Library candle too if it had a box. I learnt on the Gilt packaging that you should burn a candle all the way to the edge, from between two to four hours. When you think of all the Christmas house parties taking place up and down the land, how many hosts -especially after necking a few too many glasses of Cava and mushroom vol-au-vents - remember to keep a note of their candle burning hours? And five years on from that post I quoted, I have still not got to grips with wick trimming, snuffing, or the proper placement of "hot bottoms".

Which leads me lastly onto the notion of burning things and lung care...At the end of November I was recalled for a routine chest X-Ray as part of the panel of investigative tests I am undergoing for Sjogren's Syndrome (or Sjogren's Disease, as it is more properly known now, and which should also have two dots over the "o"). The X-Ray purported to find a "ring shadow" on my lung, so I was sent to another hospital for a CT scan a fortnight later. The extremely harrowing parking situation at that hospital easily took several years off my life, never mind my putative pulmonary problems, and I missed the appointment by some margin; luckily the staff at the mobile scanning unit were able to squeeze me in within half an hour.

 From the time I was told about the shadow till the letter arrived saying that the second scan had shown "no concerning or untoward features" - a period of three weeks or so - I had ample time to look back on my relationship with lung irritants down the years...there's the open wood fire in my French house, which billows black smoke into the room like the cooling towers of a condemned power station; there's a smattering of passive smoking around mainly musician friends, there's my joss stick habit - I fear that I always stayed in the same room as the incense to enjoy it rather than stepping outside while it burned or keeping it next to an open window ;) - and my much more occasional use of scented candles. Could I really have done some mischief to my lungs, and if I had, how would I change my home fragrance behaviour "going forward"? I realised that I would find it hard to give up joss sticks in particular, and also candles now and again, because of the sense of calm and well-being they confer. As with so many things in life, something can be both beneficial and hazardous for health at the same time. I've also started to burn logs in the grate in the front room, which surely can't be ideal, but it feels so cosy - and warm!

So yes, moderation in all things is probably the best policy, and you can't go through life being scared of every possible risk to health or you would go mad. Just as I burnt the candle at both ends socially over Christmas, and didn't once think of the Covid risk from gatherings, as I might once have done. Yes, life is for living,and fragrance in all its forms is very much part of that...

Sunday 26 November 2023

"The nearest grande dame of literary fiction may be behind you!" Meeting Madame Antonia, aka the late A S Byatt

1999 was a challenging year for me. Have you noticed how "challenging" has come to mean everything from "bloody awful" to "damn near impossible", as well as its primary meanings of "inviting competition" and "testing one's abilities"? The word has become the go-to euphemism (especially in government circles) for "much harder than we care to say". In 1999 of course the world was bracing itself for technical malfunctions on an apocalyptic scale, as we approached Y2K -  preppers hunkered down in bunkers in anticipation, stocked to the gunwhales with candles and several years' worth of baked beans - yet when the date rolled round it was all a bit of a damp squib. I saw the millennium in in a smoke-filled pub in Stoke, and absolutely nothing happened, except for a lot of kissing. 

No, 1999 was challenging for me on account of a back to back series of challenging(!) work projects, and the death of my mother in January. So tight were the deadlines on the job I was on at the time, that I was on the phone to Switzerland and Germany making appointments the day after I registered her death, with my sister-in-law sitting quietly at my side, choosing hymns for the funeral and exuding a generally comforting presence.

In June of that year I carried out a study in France on the market for ladies' hosiery, on behalf of a company that made nylon yarn. By chance, several of the manufacturing centres for ladies' tights coincide with famous wine growing regions, so I was able to do some memorable tasting along the way. Examples of this happy crossover were Troyes (champagne, plus a bonus hosiery museum!), and Pouilly Fuisse (wine and town neatly combined in one name), but there were others along my route south. Eventually I ended up in a fairly obscure part of the Gard in South West France. My meeting was at the hosiery factory in Le Vigan, but I stayed in a pretty auberge in the nearby village of Aveze, which served food on its shady terrace. 

Source: Bookng.com

After my meeting, I was unpacking my briefcase when the chambermaid stuck her head round the door, asking if I would like my room to be made up. She immediately clocked the dictaphone on the bed and inquired gaily: "Oh, have you come to interview Madame Antonia?!" I said no, while wondering who this person was to cause her to jump to that conclusion. I set about transcribing my recording for the rest of the afternoon, and thought no more about it. That evening I wandered down to the garden restaurant, ordered some food and a glass of wine, and carried on reading one of the books I had brought with me on the trip.

I had just started my main course when I heard a very well-spoken English voice address me from a table diagonally behind me (centre left vs bottom right in the photo below):

"So how are you finding the McEwan?"

I nearly jumped out of  my chair, as I hadn't heard any English for a good week or so. I turned round and instantly recognised the late middle-aged lady as A S Byatt, and also made the connection with the chambermaid's question earlier - I hadn't even known her Christian name was Antonia, as she is so often referred to by her initials. As luck would have it, I had noticed a review by her on the back of Amsterdam, the book in question, and was able to reply, quick as a flash:

"I'm enjoying it. And there is actually a review by you on the back cover!"

"Oh jolly good, what did I say?"

"'Full of gusto, straightforward, and delivers blows to the gut...shocking.'"

Source: Booking.com

I sensed that A S Byatt couldn't quite remember saying those very words, but that she trusted and stood by her earlier judgement - the book had come out the previous year. There followed a stimulating conversation about our favourite novels, and the role of literary criticism. I told her my mother had recently died, and that she was proud of the fact that she had never read a book of literary criticism, which made her laugh. She asked me who my favourite author was, which put me on the spot, and I blurted out Barbara Trapido, whom A S Byatt also liked. Given more time, I am sure I would have come up with a more heavyweight writer like E M Forster, say, but I was caught completely off-guard. A S Byatt explained that she came here every summer to write, staying at a house she owned nearby, and eating her evening meals in the auberge. Her son was over at the moment, which was a bit of luck, as she was suffering from a cold and relied on him to do the shopping. She talked about having to read a lot of books in her capacity as judge for literary awards, and how much of an effort that could be, on account of the sheer volume of pages involved. She recommended I read "Black Dogs" by Ian McEwan (which I duly did later - what a dark tale that was!), and she was just about to recommend ice cream flavours for my dessert when the heavens opened, thunder clapped, and lightning streaked the sky. A full-on electrical storm erupted, scattering the guests in all directions in search of shelter. As I ducked into the hotel, I looked towards A S Byatt's table, but she had vanished, and the garden was sodden and deserted. Up in my room listening to the clamorous patter of the rain, the whole encounter had a dreamlike quality, adding to its charge, which is undimmed by the passing years.

Here is a photo of her, rather fittingly speaking at an event in Amsterdam!

Source: Wikimedia Commons ~ Fred Ernst

Then as you may have heard on the news, A S Byatt died earlier this month, aged 87.  After the deaths of Helen Dunmore and Hilary Mantel, I found myself suddenly wanting to read their work again. In the case of A S Byatt, I now have an urge to read her work for the first time, hehe, because although I own a quartet of her books, to my shame I  have never quite got round to reading them... This didn't stop me dining out on my meeting with this literary luminary for years afterwards, for which I was teased mercilessly by friends, whom it amused to contract her name to the even more succinctly familiar "A". They would find any opportunity to say: "And of course you have met A, haven't you?", and it became something of a running joke. It was one such friend who messaged me in fact to tell me the news of her death. I did feel genuinely sad, for quite apart from A S Byatt's great talent as a writer, she was a warm and approachable person who happened to appear - however fleetingly and mysteriously! - at a time when I was feeling the lack of a maternal figure, and our brief encounter has had a greater resonance as a result. 

Oh, and I quite forgot to ask her what denier and shade of tights she wore!