Saturday, 25 July 2020

The masked aisle cruiser: musings on mask wearing for travel and shopping

So it is Day 2 of mandatory mask wear in shops in England, a rule which has already been in place for some time now on public transport. I haven't been to a shop since yesterday, as I have been laid low for a couple of days with one of those "corrective migraine and exhaustion episodes" my body tends to throw my way after a period of extreme physical exertion - in this case a rather strenuous garage clear out last weekend. I have, however, been practising donning a mask in the run up to the change in the regulations, and have some initial thoughts on various aspects of mask wear and disposal.

The fit

Well, where do I start? Just as shoes and dresses come in different sizes, so should masks, for people's heads are vastly different in shape. And not just their heads as a whole: for as one Facebook friend commented, separate features on her face had divergent requirements:  

"I think my nose is a D cup and my ears are only an A cup."

And then there is the matter of chin size relative to the rest of the face, and face width generally. I have tried on loads of masks and most fall short on some dimension: overall looseness, slack elastic, overly long elastic, too much bunched up fabric - giving something of a nappy look - scratchiness, unmouldability over the bridge of the nose, lack of breathability, spectacle fogging etc.


My easiest "straight-out-of-the-packet-with-no-breaking-in-tweaking-or-adjustment" mask to date is this stretchy yet breathable one from The Big Bloomers Company (see above). It also comes in pink and denim blue. The company already do a 'large' and a 'medium', which is a step in the right sizing direction and I correctly went for medium, but so far on the market I have not encountered many sizing options. Maybe the category will evolve and become more nuanced as the wearing of masks becomes an everyday reality. My favourite design in my collection is the leafy one, bottom left in the picture at the top of the post.

I also have one of these snood-cum-scarves-cum-face coverings (known officially as 'collar-shields' to their makers, Patra), which may be a bit porous to count as a mask - or maybe not. I very much doubt that any official in either a supermarket or on a train will get close enough to members of the public to check for fibre density. 


Oh, and while the charcoal grey one I just mentioned is fine for everyday use, I have succumbed to a Facebook advert for these slinky silk masks, which I figured might be nice for evening wear, when that distant time comes round and we can go out to gigs and parties again. It appears to have an adjustable toggle, which looks promising, as long as it isn't an uncomfortable accessory in itself. But hey, three for the price of two in different colourways - how could I resist....!?


The disposal aspect

Now as well as a bunch of washable fabric masks, early on in the pandemic I did buy a pack of the standard blue plastic ones - the kind that could perhaps be classed as 'low tech PPE'-grade. They are too big for my face, haha, and I also don't like the disposability aspect. I have seen quite a few of these masks abandoned in gutters and on verges, and I worry that we may be storing up a huge waste problem for ourselves comparable to the one involving microplastics. I hate to think of a dolphin being strangled by an inevitably ill-fitting mask, but that day may come.


The masked aisle cruiser

I should perhaps update this category once I have been shopping with the new rules in place, but I think I will prefer to wear a mask in the supermarket now they are mandatory. I felt rather self-conscious during my practising phase, not least because I was pretty much the only person in any shop wearing one(!), or one of only a very few. I fully expect some people to flout the rules - and not just those using the government-sanctioned excuse that it would cause them "severe distress", which is a pretty comprehensive get out for anyone actually. :)

"Those who 'cannot put on, wear, or remove a face covering without severe distress' will be exempt."

Distress levels are of course subjective...

The masked rail rider

In a major lockdown development, I went on a train the other day. I did have a friend to see at the other end, but it was also a way to get some value from my Senior Rail Card which had been lying worryingly fallow in recent months, as well as an experiment to see how I felt about using public transport, and whether I would consider it as a means of getting all the way to my French house, or the station that is half an hour's drive away, say. I think I would, but for the immediate future I could probably still do with taking my car, on account of the things I need to bring over.

On the way back from my excursion I had the whole carriage to myself! I decided to wear the mask regardless, so as not to create a miasma of respiratory droplets for anyone to inhale from Stafford to Crewe, and also to keep my face warm as the (droplet dispersing) aircon was so fierce!

On the outward leg my experience was a little more mixed. There can't have been more than a dozen people in the carriage even so, but I started out sitting next to three girls from Liverpool with big party hair and not a mask between them. They were chattering away nineteen to the dozen, so having clocked their high aerosol production, I decided to move further away. The next nearest person was a middle-aged man, quite heavily built and with a disconcerting habit of exhaling deeply with almost every breath. "That's way too much exhalation for one person", I thought to myself, and promptly moved again. The next person to whom I was relatively near kept sniffing, so I didn't last long near him, and the final person I settled near coughed rather more than I would have liked. I had however exhausted places to move to by this point. Plus they were all wearing masks at least, unlike the Scouse girls.

So it has been an interesting learning curve. Can't say I like having to wear a mask one bit, but I will persevere as long as it is the law. And at least I have some "going out masks" aka "facial glad rags" on their way that give me hope for the future...

Hendricks demonstrates my stretchy mask

What is your experience of mask wearing?

Have you tried ones of a different construction, eg with valves or the ones that come to more of a point over your nose?

Do let us know in the comments how covering your face has been for you...

Friday, 10 July 2020

"Whose that vial?" The tricky - and tracky! - business of tracing perfume samples...

Some of my samples!

A while ago, Undina wrote a post about Jo Malone's Sweet Milk, which prompted me to have a look for my own sample of that scent. I was going to donate it to her, not least because it was she who had given it to me in the first place. ;) In the course of my concerted rummaging, I came upon dozens and dozens of samples and decants going back ten years or more: some bought from online sites like The Perfumed Court and Lucky Scent, some gifts from fellow fumeheads, and some received in swaps on Makeupalley, where I clocked up an astonishing 75 trades back in the day when you could send fragrance internationally. Now Undina is noted for her typed labels on vials, but many of the samples I uncovered had handwritten ones. I soon became completely absorbed in trying to remember where they had all come from, either from my own recall of the transaction, or by recognising each person's handwriting. This was by no means as straightforward as I thought it would be, as I am out of touch with some of the perfumistas who were "on the circuit" up to a decade ago, and am still puzzling over quite a lot of what I found.

So for fun, I thought I would create a gallery of photos of vials with confirmed IDs, and enlist the help of readers to identify the mystery ones. There were way more unidentified fragrant objects where these came from, but I didn't want to overwhelm people with a blizzard of the things. And I haven't been right through my collection either - this is more of a random dive - so there are doubtless other examples I could have put a name to if my search had been exhaustive, as well as many more I couldn't! So I also hope that no one is offended if they do not happen to be represented in this selection. 

Known sources

Left to right: Thomas (Candy Perfume Boy), Undina (Undina's Looking Glass), Tara (A Bottled Rose), Birgit (Olfactorias Travels), Carol (Bloody Frida), Sarah (Odiferess).

Sources I think I recognise

Left to right: Rachael Potts, Val the Cookie Queen, Marie Pinholt-Krabbe, Freddy (Smellythoughts), Lisa Jones. There is a fair element of doubt about some of these(!).

Sources I have as good as no clue about 

Though I think the one on the far right may be either from Tamsin Simmill or Louise Bodin. ;) 

If you recognise a vial you sent me, or have intell on any of the handwriting, do let me know in the comments. 

I would also be interested to know if you have this problem of forgetting who gave you what!

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Light relief, if not light at the end of the tunnel exactly...

Market Square at the height of lockdown
Undina of Undina's Looking Glass has a charming mini-series entitled "Small Things That Brighten Life", in which she has featured everything from ducklings to hummingbirds and sunsets to Christmas lights - in short, whatever catches her eye and lifts her spirits.

June has been a funny month here, with every kind of weather, lockdown rules evolving at a dizzying rate, and friends 'bubbling up' left and right with other households. People are returning to the town centre, some wearing masks, while the irrepressible charity chuggers in Market Square sport visors. They would bear a passing resemblance to riot police were it not for their cheery turquoise T-shirts. Queues spill out of every shop and bank, with gloved assistants hovering in doorways to conduct a triage of people's needs. "Is it to deposit a cheque? Right, so you can use the ATM outside." The familiar streets look like the set of a sci-fi film, and there is still an edge of unease that taints shopping trips. Once a go-to destination at the weekend to get my retail fix, I have long since lost my urge to visit T K Maxx recreationally, and am only shopping for food every fortnight, in a highly organised, surgical strike kind of a way. We are all unsure whether to remain 'alert' or relax, but on balance the virus is probably just on its break...Meanwhile, I have also had some house-related issues that don't really lend themselves to being spun in a humorous way - the prerequisite for content on Bonkers! - which explains the long hiatus. Quite a few are sorted now, and I am working on a workaround for the rest.

However, just this week I have had four unexpected conversations that were sufficiently left field and amusing to "brighten life" Undina-style, and which are the trigger for this post.

The reluctant salesman

I had a roofing company come to look at the gutter on my garage this week. I had unblocked it the other day in the pouring rain, as it was chock full of sludge, and overflowing and leaking in several places.

"That's not leaking, it was just overflowing."

"Really? Only I was sure I saw water coming out the bottom rather than going over the side."

"No, it would only leak at the joints. In that rain, everybody's gutters will have been overflowing. Why, mine were overflowing last week!"

I then asked tentatively about replacing the asbestos cement roof.

"Oh, you don't want to do that - it's a lot of work, and much too expensive."

And with that, he was gone. My kind of tradesman.

My gutter, post-unblocking!

The inadvertently louche cycle shop

I took my bike in for repair on Tuesday, as the wheel was bulging out and the brake blocks sticking. A couple of days later it was ready for collection, and I walked into town to collect it. The owner wheeled my bike slowly out of the back room, and pointed out its new tyre, before adding gloomily:

"You should know that someone who has had it in for repair before has interfered with a couple of nipples."

"Er...what's a nipple in bike terms?" I inquired, trying desperately to maintain a straight face.

"These little things inside the rim...d'you see? Someone's had a go at them and now they are..." - he paused for emphasis - "misshapen."

My bike in a friend's garden

The man who wanted to be thinner

Whilst in Boots queuing at the pharmacy counter, I happened to be level with a young man weighing himself on the 'speak your weight'-type scales. He had short, dyed black, face framing hair, with a very short fringe that few people suit, though he did, piercing blue eyes, lots of other piercings, including large metal discs inside his ears, not unlike the style of silicone ear plugs I had just bought(!), a dark fake tan, and was wearing a tight T-shirt and tartan trousers. His belt clanked with metal accoutrements, which must surely have weighed quite a bit on their own. The young man was so pleased with the reading that he started 'speaking his weight' himself, and as he looked towards anyone who could provide an audience, I was happy to step up.

"Ooh", he exclaimed gaily, "I've lost weight!"

"From the sound of your voice, I take it you wanted to?"

"Yes, I like to be between ten and a half and eleven stone, and I thought I wasn't."

"Well, for what it's worth, I'd have said you were more around the ten stone mark. You look pretty skinny to me."

"Oh, I will take that, thank you! You see, I want to look emaciated. I am trying to channel David Bowie."

"I get that, and maybe 10% Bay City Rollers, if you don't mind me saying so?"

"The tartan trousers, you mean? Yeah, fair enough."

"I remember them first time round."

"I don't, haha..."

And with that he wished me a good day and scampered off happily, before I could call after him:

"Not forgetting the 30% Paul Weller and 15% Dave Hill!"


The call centre operator who cared

Today I needed to call my phone company, for in the act of switching to a more cost-effective plan, I had inadvertently taken out a whole new contract as though I was migrating TO 3 from another provider. When I dialled the number, the recorded message explained that staff were working from home during the crisis, and that I might hear some background noise from children and pets. As I was put through, I was really hoping I would(!), but there was a disappointing lack of acoustic accompaniment. The Indian call handler went through all the steps he and I needed to take to undo my mistake, before breaking off to ask how my area of the UK was doing in terms of the virus. I replied that we were in a bit of a lull at the moment, and possibly erring on the side of complacency, as the virus might rear its spikes again at any time.

Suddenly the customer service chap launched into a long - and fascinating - account of the virus situation where he lived. He was indeed working from home, in a small town outside Mumbai. Because of the overcrowded housing in the city, infections were growing at an alarming rate, with hospitals not really geared up to deal with the exponential number of cases that may be about to hit them. He explained that he was happy to work remotely, and was trying to shield his mother by doing her shopping.

Earlier in the conversation, he had asked me my date of birth as one of the security questions, and suddenly came over all protective of me.

"You are of a similar age to my mother. I hope that you are taking good care of yourself. You shouldn't really be going out really. How are you managing for food?"

I explained my new, more targeted grocery shopping MO outlined above.

"Okay, well you should also do what you can to boost your immunity. Start the day with a cup of warm milk and a teaspoon of turmeric. You can add sugar if you want. Or make a tea with hot water, cinnamon - do you have cinammon? - ginger, and cardamom. That's good too. You could do with having both of those every day. You are of the age where you need to do all you can to protect yourself, starting with your immunity."

I thanked him for his concern, and the helpful tip, before we moved on to whether I had visited India (no, but I know people who have, and have a friend who is half Indian), and if so, where I would like to visit.

"Umm, maybe Kerala, to start with? Then some of the classic sights further north?"

"Very good, and there's also Goa. The food is excellent, and not all vegetarian. But please don't come now! This is a very bad time."

I assured him I wouldn't do anything of the sort, and we wrapped up the call with another recorded message stating the terms and conditions of my new plan. After I had come off the phone, I went to my pantry and found a sachet of turmeric, that expired in June 2018. I shall of course now google: "Can you use spices after their best before date has expired?"


Have you had any amusing encounters that have perked you up during the pandemic?

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Antidepressants AND Tolkien!: the therapeutic power of nature walks on your doorstep

Entrance to Stafford Castle
So the first part of the title to this post may need explaining, being a loose adaptation of a quiz doing the rounds on Facebook to which my godson alerted me, called: "Antidepressants or Tolkien?" 24 names flash up on screen and you have to decide if they are the actual name of a character from The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit OR that of a currently prescribed antidepressant.  Not having read any Tolkien except The Hobbit (nigh on 50 years ago!) I was absolutely pants at the quiz. This is also because - despite carrying out numerous market research studies in pharmaceutical topics in the past - I don't think my path crossed SSRIs and their ilk at any point. So I had to guess at every single name except Cymbalta and Bilbo. If you are a Tolkien fan or a pharmacist, you will ace it I am sure!

And now to explain my substituting of "AND" for "Or". Basically, I have been exploring long neglected green areas in my town this week - by me I mean - and discovering some new ones, and was struck in a couple of places by their resemblance to a Tolkien-like wood. And I do know about that at least, if not the characters in the books, for a number of scenes from Tolkien-influenced Game of Thrones were filmed in that forest I mentioned in my recent hermit and hand cream post. As well as elsewhere in Ulster in familiar beauty spots from my childhood. Plus Tolkien lived in Staffordshire for a while, and was inspired by some of the gnarled old oaks on Cannock Chase, as referenced in my review of Liz Moores' Dryad. So that is all by way of explaining my Tolkien-esque foliage-spotting credentials. ;)

These bursts of extreme exercise - each walk was about three hours long - were prompted in part by ongoing pain issues from my sprained pelvis. I thought I would try flooding the area with the dopamine known to be released by (a compatible form of) physical activity, of which Val the Cookie Queen is of course the poster girl. At the same time, I figured it might improve my mood during lockdown. The lack of control and uncertain future are two aspects I continue to struggle with, and Ian McEwan hit the nail on the head in his recent essay on time:

He quotes Kierkegaard to start with:

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."

McEwan adds: "When that forward motion is denied, then you are liable to go tumbling backwards through time."

I presume he is talking of not being able to look forward to anything, and the mental freefalling that may ensue. At least we can now meet one person from another household in an outdoor setting, which feels like a big win after the constraints of lockdown so far!

The first discovery I made on Day One was of a treelined path that led all the way to my local Aldi from just beyond the road at the bottom of my street. That could make the dreaded shopping trips more agreeable, assuming I wasn't driving, obviously.

The second discovery was of a lake behind the rugby club, complete with anglers, hidden knots of youths at the water's edge sharing a spliff, and ducks with attitude.

"I'm tyred of this...!"

Next up, I chanced upon a venerable shoe company, called Jen. This sign dates from 1963, but the company's roots stretch back to the 19th century. Footwear used to be a thriving industry in Stafford, which was also home to the better known brand Lotus.

My friend David, the artist, was commissioned to make a stained glass panel for St Mary's Church in town to commemorate this 'last-ing' legacy. ;)

Source: BaldHiker

A few minutes later, I was in the atmospheric shade of a path up to the castle, which snakes between the manicured green sward of the golf course. I saw a fox, though barely captured him on camera before he ran to ground.

(Fox not pictured!)

The castle dates from 1100 AD, albeit there is not much of it left. You can see for miles around, and once again, the grassy slopes below were dotted with groups of young people sitting chatting - in a vaguely socially distanced way, aided by their recumbent bicycles. No, not that kind of recumbent bicycle...!

I have stopped tutting at such scenes, ever since I learnt that if you are young you are more likely to be die by being struck by lightning than of Covid-19.

The following day, I did a circuit of Doxey Marshes, a nature reserve beloved of twitchers and dog walkers alike, which backs onto the estate where I used to live. As a born again bird watcher, I was pleased to see several varieties, two with babies in tow:

Some surprisingly docile goslings:

In this long shot, you could fancy yourself on safari (almost!)

One of several laid back swans:

Not forgetting their synchronised cygnets. "A cygnet ring!" as the aforementioned David waggishly remarked.

There were cows galore as well, both reflective and reflected. Here is one, ruminating and watching the world go by.

And now the startling sight of "La Vache Qui Pee".

Why, that will be due to all the drinking of course! Note the mirror images in the stream.

I also managed to pap this squirrel, doing a good imiation of Cerberus perched on a gravestone in the adjacent cemetery.

It has been too blowy over the past couple of days to walk very far since, but more explorations of Stafford's green interstices are definitely on the cards. Along with that Undina-inspired post I mentioned earlier...

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Ready, steady, heady: sniffing shots of lilac gin

I should have been taking a plane today. Somewhere far enough away to seem utterly fantastical in today's new reality. The pandemic feels like a waking dream most of the time, with news bulletins recycling the same terminology on an endless loop. If I had a pound for every time someone in the media says 'unprecedented', 'vulnerable', and 'frontline', I wouldn't need the Government's self-employed rescue package I may or may not be invited to apply for before they decide to withdraw it again because of easing the lockdown.

Actually, I say 'frontline' is mentioned over and over, but if you google it (as I just did to see if it was two words or not), you get the flea treatment for dogs and cats of that name as the first search result in Google. Which tells you all you need to know about the all-conquering dark art of SEO.

Much paler in reality than it appears!

But no, instead of going anywhere beyond my limited local circuit at the moment, I have been bird watching and lilac spotting, knitting, reading, cooking, and having psychological battles with Truffle over whether she will or won't get out of the office chair last thing at night. I have taken to carrying the chair with her in it all the way along the landing and tipping her downstairs, even though this is probably not an ideal manoeuvre for my compromised pelvis. This MO does seem to work, mind, with minimal hissing and personal injury.

But I digress...back to my new and colourful pursuit of lilac spotting. The latter has escalated to the level of a sport now on my daily constitutionals (or however often I manage to take them, given how absorbing my many knitting projects are proving at the moment!). Last night I clocked up white, pale mauve, mid-mauve, and a rich magenta. Along the way I also paused to sniff a hawthorn tree (disappointing) and a neighbour's wisteria, as I missed the flowering on my French house this year. I had forgotten how lilac-like wisteria is as a scent.

Now I know I said "lilac gin" there in the title, messing with Elkie Brooks' preferred tipple. That was purely to grab readers' attention, in much the same way that mine was attracted the other day by the headline: "Adele is so skinny now and looks like Barbie." So a low tactic, I concede.

I am not sure I would like lilac gin actually, though my friend David - whose own lilac is the deepest purple one pictured above - makes me fruit-flavoured gin every Christmas. I currently have bottles of his raspberry and pomegranate varieties on the go. If there isn't some lifting at the end of the tunnel from next week, I can see me making greater inroads into my gin stash!

Following on from a recent post by Undina, I was rummaging for the sample she gave me of Jo Malone Sweet Milk a while ago - I didn't care for it, and she mentioned having nearly run out - when I came across another JM sample she'd given me, namely Wild Lilac & Rhubarb. Given my current lilac craze, I have been enjoying wearing it lately, and it doesn't seem either synthetic or overly sweet as I had mistakenly remembered.

Notes: lilac, rhubarb, rose and heliotrope

I am now curious to smell En Passant again, and revisit Opardu and Pacifica French Lilac (the latter also courtesy of Undina), which has given my usually reliable photographic memory the slip for the moment. Oh, and Vacances, which I gave to my brother because he asked if I had a lilac perfume a man could wear.

Source: fragrantica

And speaking of knitting, in my recent yarn splurges, I seem to have been drawn to shades of are the balls in question: for some reason I can't turn the photo round the other way.

Are you flower spotting this spring, in lieu of going to gigs / Nando's / the pub / for a curry / your venue of choice etc?

PS Undina, this still isn't the post inspired by your Sweet Milk post, though you might well think so! ;)

Monday, 27 April 2020

"She and Salv": two train-themed perfume mini-stories with a surreal soapy twist

The other day I heard I was going to be awarded a partial refund of £11.86 by CrossCountry Trains, to compensate me for missing my connection on a journey that seems like a lifetime, but was only in fact some seven weeks ago. I got very excited by this, for together with the £15 proceeds from selling an old half tin of paint to a friend of ex-Mr Bonkers, that's pretty much it for income at the moment.

And the email made me think back to the glorious era of train travel - or any travel indeed - and to a couple of perfume-related incidents which happened this year, one on a train in fact. In the first case I found myself sitting next to a lady of my own age give or take, when she suddenly fished a canister of YSL Rive Gauche out of her handbag, upended it, and proceeded to use the shiny metal base as a compact mirror to apply lipstick. The resourcefulness and nonchalance behind this gesture impressed me in equal measure, and I couldn't help but strike up a conversation with her, starting with a comment to the effect that you don't often come across people wearing Rive Gauche these days. My fellow passenger, who introduced herself as 'She' (you can readily guess what Christian name that was short for), was fulsome in her praise of Rive Gauche, which was no less than her signature scent. She was so worried that it might be discontinued that she had recently bought a back up bottle at Manchester airport, so we chatted a bit about that dismal phenomenon (discontinuing perfumes, I mean, not the airport, of which I have nothing but fond memories). I learnt that she was recently retired and off to see her sister, 'Mad' (you can guess her name too with relative ease!). There was a third sister, also with an amusing contraction, but it has slipped my mind now. Anyway, I had great fun shooting the fragrant breeze with She for as long as our journeys coincided. And no, Vanessa, it's not "shooting the fragrant breeze with Her", even if that is your understandable instinct.

The same weekend, I was given a present by a fellow fan of The Monochrome Set of a vintage set of Salvador Dali miniatures. I didn't inspect the contents of the box till the following day (on another train!), and it afforded that special kind of delight associated with small, secret things, somewhere between a doll's house, a shape sorting toy, and an advent calendar.

There were two perfumes from the 80s: a daytime diva-ish floral, and an evening diva-ish oriental, plus a tiny bar of soap, perfumed bath oil, and body cream - all of them shaped like Dali's trademark lips. That should perhaps be 'mouth of soap' then. The perfumed body cream container had a dear little swivelly lid like a sugar bowl that only fits snugly in one position, while the other three had pull off tops like the spikes atop a wrought iron gate.

At a guess the body cream is past its best, but still smells rich and opulent, as does the bath oil. You can hear a little bit swishing about if you shake it.

Thanks to Basenotes, I have found the notes for the perfumes, both by Alberto Morillas and launched in 1983:

Parfum (the orange coloured one):

Frankincense, bergamot, clove, rose, jasmine, mimosa, sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, musk

Parfum de toilette (the pale yellow coloured one):

Top notes: aldehydes, basil, bergamot, fruits, green notes, mandarin
Heart notes: orris root, jasmine, lily, lily-of-the-valley, orange blossom, rose, tuberose
Base notes: amber, benzoin, musk, myrrh, sandalwood, vanilla, cedar

You can readily tell from those notes how retro and big production the two perfumes smell - definitely of their time. But remarkably well preserved. If I am feeling bold one day - and let's face it, lockdown is the ideal occasion - I might give them an outing. Or the indoor equivalent, obviously. ;)

And I am getting through a lot of soap at the moment, however, I reckon that with it being so distinctive I'd have to be on my very last sliver before I broached the cute little lips bar...

Friday, 17 April 2020

The hermit and her hand cream: Lockdown life Part 2

So here we are...three weeks in, three weeks to go. Or an indefinite number of weeks, for the Government is keeping its cards close to its chest, and is terrified of breathing a word to the nation about the possibility of unlocking us for fear of people rushing out of their houses prematurely, lying on park benches in droves, jogging six abreast (accompanied by lots of panting and spitting), and having barbecues for 15 behind (rather symbolically) a row of lock up garages. In short, it doesn't trust the majority of people who have so assiduously complied with social distancing all this while.

Be that as it may, two weeks on from my last post, things feel quite a lot different, mainly in terms of the degree of resigned acceptance I feel about the situation. I guess people in actual prison must go through a very similar thought process - or the bereaved, indeed. Whereas before, my main objection to the restrictions was the isolation from friends, I have since become something of a born again hermit, and the thought of a zoom party featuring headshots of a dozen people (or however many you can fit onto a screen) would feel like a surreal surfeit of stimulation. I am okay with phone calls, but I would find the sight of even someone's head and shoulders strangely overwhelming at this point, and that's not even because of the dire 'wild woman' state of my own hair, hehe. No, I sense I have shifted down several gears, such that occasionally bumping into people - or even more occasionally arranging to drop off food with someone I gaily construe as 'elderly' if they are more or less my age(!), and potentially also 'vulnerable' once they have eaten my cooking ;) - is proving a busy enough form of social life. I am frankly amazed I have got to this point, and perhaps the tide will turn, and I will crave tangible company again.

Police poster on the ground - now technically litter!

Now I don't know about you, but in the absence of face-to-face contact I have been receiving a disproportionate number of emails, messages and texts compared to normal times, many from more distant family and friends, whom the current crisis has galvanised into action. On any given day I owe about ten replies by various media, and this surge in communications is causing an unexpected feeling of pressure I didn't foresee, even though I know this 'reaching out'(!) is well-intentioned, and I am grateful for people's concern. Moreover, each person who writes to me is of course unaware that I am receiving a number of similar inquiries. The fact of the matter is that I only tend to call my elderly friend, which backs up my hunch that I may be getting used to the solitary life.

Coincidentally, there is a beautiful creeper-clad hermitage in Tollymore Forest, Co Down, where my brother and I spent many happy childhood holidays (our parents had a caravan just outside the park). Years ago I decided that I wanted my ashes to be scattered in the Shimna River right below the hermitage. My brother has opted for a spot upstream of me with an architecturally interesting bridge and the added benefit of being a more discreet location for this surreptitious act to be carried out - with it being a national park, I mean. So there's further oblique confirmation of my hermit credentials.


Yes, the social isolation is bothering me less than it was, but meanwhile I can't wait to see my dentist, osteopath and hairdresser again - about my holey molar, sprained foot and pelvis, and mad mane of hair respectively! I am also quietly hopeful that an enterprising tree surgeon will swing by tomorrow to empty my bin of green waste, so that I can get on with gardening.

Though the loneliness may have receded, I remain moderately worried about catching the virus, especially after seeing a programme on survivors. One familiar face featured was Linda Lusardi, who got the illness quite badly and ended up in hospital with complications. When she sought reassurance from a nurse that she would make it, he was rather equivocal and said: "Hmm..well, it's hard to say - you are 61 after all, and this thing is brand new." (I am paraphrasing.) Having seen recent photos of the former Page 3 model, I must say she is looking tremendous for her age, which may have helped her recovery. However, the fact that someone so vital and relatively young in my terms could fall so ill does give you pause.

Are you by any chance doing that thing where if you wake up in the morning and feel a bit hot you start asking yourself if the feeling of heat is the sun streaming through the window, that hot bath you had last night, too much bedding, overly cosy pyjamas, a physical manifestation of anxiety...or could it possibly be The Fever?!! If anyone out there has already had the virus and would like to share their experience, please do let us know, also any tips for managing the symptoms.

The other thing that I'd be interested to know about the lockdown is whether you have found yourself doing new things, sometimes without any conscious decision to do so. Here's a round up of the ones I have noticed recently:

- Drinking hot water and lemon first thing (I have it in my head that this is good for detoxing the liver from all those Cadbury's Mini-Eggs)

- Sleeping longer and deeper (this is completely abnormal!)

- A three hour bike ride, not by design. Good - and God - deed for the day was alerting the vicar of Sandon church to the fact that his security alarm was going off. "There probably isn't a burglar inside", I said to allay his fears of a break in. "My money's on a bat." Hmm, maybe that wasn't the best way to reassure him.

- Ongoing unprecedented levels of cooking. Ex-Mr Bonkers has just come to the door and collected a tupperware of vegetable curry I set aside for him on the step. He took one look at my hair - he hasn't seen me for a month or two - and said: "Just accept you are going grey!" Ha!

- Using the downstairs shower (to mix up my ablution routine - gotta get your kicks where you can!)

- Applying hand cream (a lifetime first, which is doubtless related to the copious amounts of hand washing we are all engaged in)

The hand cream in question was given to me ages ago by fellow blogger Sabine, which goes to show how long-kept items can suddenly come into their own. Its realistic mimosa scent - cheery and uplifting in that distinctive sherbety way - reminded me of my first misguided purchase of niche perfume over ten years ago in Paris...L'Ete en Douce from L'Artisan Parfumeur, which Luca Turin so aptly described as "laundry musk on steroids" (I'm paraphrasing here too). The sad fact is that I was hesitating on that occasion between L'Ete en Douce and Mimosa pour Moi, and bitterly regret not opting for the latter. I think I did eventually manage to swap the musky miscreant for something I only wanted marginally more(!), but the memory of Mimosa pour Moi still haunts me...And for now, this Swedish hand cream is a fair substitute.

Ah dear, it seems to be discontinued, judging by the company's website.


PS I have been wearing perfume every now and then when I am in the mood and remember: Serge Lutens Un Lys, Guerlain Lys Soleia, Kenzo Eau de Fleur de Magnolia, original Vera Wang (worn ironically, obvs) and something I fished out from my sample box which just says 'Guerlain' on the vial, but which may in fact be Encens Mythique.