Saturday 29 December 2012

Scented Santa 2012 - The Inventory

So, Christmas is over and it is time to put away the presents, though not the decorations. They have another week or so to run thank goodness, as I am a two-tree household and it will be a bit of a performance to dismantle everything come January 6th. I don't know about you, but I always find it difficult to put away my Christmas presents immediately after opening them. If I do that it makes me feel I haven't actually received anything, which is silly I know. Yes, I leave the presents for a few days where I can view them - I'd say like a deceased family member in a chapel of rest if it weren't such a ghoulish image. They start off on the living room floor where the unwrapping session took place, then they typically migrate to on top of a bed, and then finally get dispersed to a suitable long term home.

Presents come in a variety of categories: first off there are the ones with an immediate wow factor (an axe!, a beautiful scarf!, a set of funky cheese knives!, a packet of fudge (briefly) pre-owned by Tom Cruise!).


Next up you have gifts that you really need and of which you will make extensive use, but which don't make the heart sing in quite the same way (a large mixing bowl!, a set of Russian doll measuring cups!). That said, the mixing bowl is just about as beautiful as a functional item of kitchenware can be, and I have already christened it with the stuffing.

Then there are the ones that you haven't worked out if they are really you or not, but you aspire to like them (a jar of antipasti aubergines!, facsimiles of vintage seed packets!).

And then there is inevitably the odd gift that is a complete non-starter for reasons too numerous to mention; these may actually bypass the bed display stage and go straight to the recycling box. I will draw a veil over the specifics of this year's (happily very few) "straight to box" candidates, but I can perhaps mention my mother's worse ever Christmas present, which was a pair of punctured rubber gloves.


And perhaps I should create a separate category for my fragrant presents, which pretty much all fall in the wow factor category. It is a measure of how entrenched this perfume hobby has become that friends automatically think to buy me something in the "smellies" department in the broadest sense of the term, and that is absolutely fine by me.


If that lady is meant to represent me, I feel duty bound to point out that Gillie has been more than generous in the bosom department. ; - )



The Instant Boost Skin Tonic which comes with it has a delicate scent that is so nuanced and fresh that it would make a charming perfume in its own right. In fact I may do a post about the Liz Earle range at some point, as I have also recently tried her perfumes - I didn't even know she had any - but a friend had bottles of both!

Notes: organic aloe vera, calendula, rose-scented geranium, cucumber


Note that one of the bars has an intriguing metal embellishment.


No prizes for guessing what he smells of - unless your Swedish is even worse than mine - and mine is seriously rudimentary.

I would be interested to hear about your perfume-themed presents this Christmas - and if you dare tell me, your worst gifts generally, and why they were so awful if it is not immediately apparent.

Photo of rubber gloves from

Friday 28 December 2012

It Never Raineys But It Pours! Bonkers Is In The Daily Telegraph Again!

At the end of September I was interviewed over the phone by a features writer at The Daily Telegraph, Harry Wallop, about my views on discount chain Lidl's latest perfume release, X-Bolt for men. A couple of quotes from me were used in his article on the Hugo Boss smell-alike.

To my great surprise, a colleague of Harry Wallop's at the paper, Sarah Rainey, rang me the other day to quiz me - on the spot again! - about my views on celebrity-endorsed perfumes in all their manifestations, to feed into her upcoming feature on the subject.

Well, it appeared in yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph, and also includes quotes from Nick Gilbert, Manager of Les Senteurs' Seymour Place store, who is known to many of us, and has a wealth of expertise about fragrance as well as being an all-round good egg.

Here is the link:

The Sweet Smell Of Celebs

There are two soundbytes from me as before, about half way down. The article also mentions the current Chanel No 5 campaign featuring Brad Pitt and the one for Hugo Boss Nuit de Femme fronted by Gwyneth Paltrow, but didn't include my thoughts on those - perhaps for the best... ; - )

But here they are anyway - from an email I sent by way of a PS after my phone chat with Sarah - or should I call her "Rainey" by analogy with "Musson"? : - )

"I have to say that Brad looks like he has just got out of bed, and though Marilyn Monroe was famously said to have worn No 5 to bed, personally I don't think it is an elegant look for the brand. No 5 to me is more Catherine Deneuve in a French pleat than a rumpled Brad in a goatee. Maybe he should just borrow the wife's Bvlgari Black instead......And then you have Gwyneth Paltrow, who - along with three other high profile women - featured on the Estee Lauder Sensuous ads, which were very effective, I thought, in a clean-but-sexy-white-shirt-kind-of-a-way. At the moment Gwyneth is the face of Hugo Boss Nuit Pour Femme, but in the poster ad at least I think her smile strikes me as a little tentative - see what you think. She doesn't appear to be doing that Tyra Banks 'smiling with her eyes' thing. Maybe she is worried that there will be another Lidl me-too along shortly... ;-)"

Hmm, come to think of it, Brad's not really "smizing" in that shot of him either, which I'd have thought was inevitable for the money they're paying him... ; - )

Photo of Hugo Boss campaign from Vogue website, photo of Brad Pitt and Britney Spears from The Daily Telegraph

Monday 24 December 2012

Turkey, Stuffing, & "Stuff On My Cat" - Have A Merry Bonkers Christmas!

Only yesterday I still had it "all to do", as they say, in terms of the big Christmas food shop. Well, that is not strictly true, as I had laid in alcohol of every persuasion to accompany the many courses I had yet to procure: champagne, pink Cava, red and white wine, gin, sherry, port and dessert wine. And I wasn't even planning on doing a dessert, as there is only me this year, and I am usually stuffed after the main course. There was a point last night where I thought I might not even bother battling round Sainsbury's, but just get pissed and eat Twiglets. For these I do have in, despite scoffing nearly a whole canister in one sitting last night while agonising over fan oven settings, as is my annual wont.

But I girded my loins this morning and made a foray into Asda and Sainsbury's, coming back with a turkey and the wherewithal to make some traditional accompaniments, like my signature dish of apricot and pecan stuffing, which I have traditionally made for the vegetarian Mr Bonkers, and which I shall make again on autopilot this year. Note, I plan to make dishes "to accompany" rather than "to trim" the turkey, a curious verb I have seen creep into British English lately that makes me think of someone cutting bits off the poor bird. Though I guess it might have come to that if the turkey hadn't fitted into the oven - or later indeed, if it turned out to be edible.

And the other great news is that I have managed to hunt down some vintage thin tinsel on Ebay in time for Christmas, instead of succumbing to a distress purchase of the vivid-hued chenille caterpillars that pass for tinsel in the shops nowadays.


So it just remains to wish readers of Bonkers everywhere a very Merry Christmas however you are spending the holiday period - I know some people are doing the traditional nine yards - or three yards like me - while others are having "beef on Tuesday" or a curry in their pyjamas.


Oh, and I should also explain that one of my best known readers, Anna from Edinburgh, sent in this photo of her cat Lucy posing in a sweetie wrapper bauble hat at the top of this post, "Stuff on My Cat"-style. She was inspired by the original shot (above) of Charlie Bonkers modelling a Lindt chocolate wrapper in a post entitled "Lindt and Fluff", and assures me that this photo involved an astonishing feat of cat whispering. Lucy apparently has your hand off if you approach her, never mind corral her into humiliating festive poses.


Photo of Lucy via Anna from Edinburgh, other photos my own.

Friday 21 December 2012

Painting The Town Red With Katie Puckrik - Part 2: A Scented Sit-Down Of Comediennes And A Stunning Sleight Of Stuntman At The Card Shark Show

After our purposeful whizz round Selfridges - Katie being a past mistress at purposeful whizzing - we speed walked in the direction of Soho. Along the way we popped into a few clothes shops, including a branch of Barbour, where Katie tried on a selection of what I now know to be called Ladies Wax Trench hats. These sported varying degrees of brim width, which distinguished your 20s flapper girl look from your country lady angler. My superior height (not by much, but even a few inches was enough to count) meant that I could fetch down the top shelf hat piles for Katie's consideration.

Once in Soho, Katie suggested grabbing a bite to eat in a little noodle place she knew, when suddenly her phone rang...As a result of that call, the evening took an unexpected - but most entertaining - turn. For the friend who rang was Hattie Hayridge, a stand-up comic and actor in the comedy series Red Dwarf, and she was inviting Katie to join her at The Groucho Club, where she had just secured a table in a prime spot by the window.

And so it was that just moments later, we were sitting down in a plush corner of the club, cocktail in hand(!), and none other than Chris Evans in our line of sight - he was standing at the bar, surrounded by a clutch of friends. It took me about 20 minutes before I realised that this place was in fact the iconic Groucho Club, and not just some West End pub with Groucho in the name - you know, like "The Groucho and Ferret" or "The Groucho's Head". And then before you could say: "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member", we were joined by another comedienne, Helen Lederer, who ordered a glass of bar Twiglets, of which we all made light work. Then the four of us proceeded to shoot the breeze in a "Grumpy Old Women" kind of a way. Somehow I also managed to shoehorn into the conversation a recent shortchanging incident, whereby a roll of Sellotape ended up costing me £11.55, and the others came through with the head-shaking empathy I so desperately craved.

From the depths of her handbag Hattie then produced a couple of vintage Russian perfumes she had picked up on her travels, which we duly sniffed, and all preferred the more honeyed one - should have noted the names really! And at one point we all sniffed Helen, who challenged us to identify her signature scent - to which I am sworn to secrecy - but anyway, it turned out to be a layering of two perfumes, so we were on a losing wicket from the off, really.

And before long it was time for Katie and me to head off to the main event of the evening, namely the press night of The Card Shark Show at The Mayfair Theatre - an auditorium housed in the hotel of the same name. Katie and I were fortunate to have been allocated front row seats, which meant that in theory we could have been called upon to participate in any of the card tricks. As it turned out, some other people in our row had already been primed for this purpose, and they jumped to their feet as soon as the call came for a volunteer.


So what exactly did the show consist of? Well, I can best describe it as a novel hybrid of cinematic documentary and live commentary from the show's host, stuntman and magician Steve Truglia, all interspersed with his dazzling performance of jaw-droppingly slick card tricks.

As the show programme states in its introduction:

"From the middle ages through Wild West saloon bars to murderous gangsters, discover how sleight of hand techniques honed by hardened gamblers influenced modern card magic."

And here is a promotional trailer for the show, featuring a number of the media personalities who attended. One of them, the presenter Dominic Littleton (whom I was sure I had seen on TV, but couldn't quite place), was sitting the other side of Katie, and at one point during the show reached across to offer us a mint. I politely declined, then swallowed my embarrassment and said: "I am sorry, but you look awfully familiar", to which he replied, quick as a flash: "Do I owe you any money?!", which struck me as a wonderfully sharp riposte.

After the show, we adjourned to a large function room for drinks and food, in the shape of dainty pokes of fish and chips in mock newspaper. We are talking goujons, basically - I guess you would expect nothing less genteel in a hotel of that calibre! ; - ). As people milled around, I scoped the room for more celebrities, of which there was a goodly smattering. Meanwhile, Katie had her picture taken several times by the numerous agency photographers who had been sent to capture the action. And one actually asked me to stay in the shot, though clearly he didn't know me from Adam! A fine example of "collateral papping", as I remarked to Katie afterwards. That shot has also been included in the official photo album on The Card Shark Show's Facebook page, about which I must confess to feeling secretly chuffed. Or not so secretly, even, given that I just told you all... : - )


And as if the show wasn't electrifying enough, when I got back to my hotel and read the programme, I felt that my viewing pleasure was retrospectively enhanced by reading about Steve Truglia's other exploits in the course of his career as a stunt coordinator and performer. His film credits include Saving Private Ryan, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. Specifically, his stunts include driving a car round a 12 metre high loop the loop for Channel 5's Fifth Gear, while he also holds the 2004 record for the fastest ever abseil, as well as - my personal favourite - the longest fire burn within the UK at two minutes five seconds.

Tickets for The Card Shark Show cost £50, which by the standards of London's Theatre Land, is not excessive, I don't think. It really was a complete one-off, and though the theme had piqued my curiosity when Katie first sounded me out about going, I found the show even more entertaining - nay, enthralling - than I expected.

And in a nice touch as we were leaving, all the guests were given a pack of cards specially produced for The Card Shark Show. I don't suppose for one minute that I will master how to "control the deck" any time soon, but it could come in handy for the odd game of patience.

Photo of The Groucho Club from, photo of the Mayfair Theatre from, photo of me with Katie Puckrik by Gabor Scott, photo of Steve Truglia from, other photos my own

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Painting The Town Red With Katie Puckrik - Part 1: Another Lippie Epiphany

Regular readers - or should I refer to you as irregular readers, as my posting frequency has been decidedly erratic since the house move - may recall that for a long time now I have been on a quest to find Holy Grail lipsticks in a variety of shades. I think I found the perfect nude-browny-pink in Burberry Nude Rose, and the perfect nude-and-not-too-vivid-or-trashy-pink in Dior Pisanelle Pink. However, the perfect red (or even a half-decent red that doesn't make me look like a clown, a hooker or Cruella de Ville) continued to elude me. Back in September, Katie Puckrik, a bit of a make up guru on the quiet, took up the discarded gauntlet / cudgels? on my behalf, and on the occasion of one of our whistlestop meetings at a cafe near Euston, her first act was to upend her handbag and spill a good dozen red lipsticks and lip glosses onto the table. (I wish I had taken a photograph of that!)

As a direct outcome of that testing session (on skin and on Katie in what I can best describe as the lipstick equivalent of a series of lightning costume changes), I went home and bought Revlon Sizzle Lip Gloss and Revlon Lip Butter in Candy Apple. Despite their being on Katie's shortlist of possible contenders for me, I couldn't quite believe in them myself. For I have a real mental block about red lipstick suiting me, partly based on my sallow colouring, but also to do with the relative thinness of my lips compared to Katie's pillowy pout. Somewhere I have taken on board the notion that red lipstick can be unflattering on mature skin. Sharon Stone gives the lie to that supposed "rule" here, but then I am not Sharon Stone, just her age.


And then at the end of November, I was down in London again, and Katie kindly took me on a make up sampling spree in Selfridges before we headed off for dinner and the evening's (partly unscheduled) entertainment, of which more in Part 2. Sniffing wasn't so much on the agenda, as we had done a bit of that at Les Senteurs where we met up, but we did swing by the Dior display specifically so I could try Grand Bal. I am currently on a jasmine hunt for my Scandal- and Fracas-loving friend Sharon. She is a born-again tuberose lover, who is looking to branch out into other heady white soliflores, of which jasmine seemed as good an example as any. Anyway, I thought Grand Bal very pretty, like a quieter version of By Kilian Love & Tears, maybe. It was of necessity just a fleeting impression, because the sales assistant had no samples to give away. This surprised me, as Dior had always been pretty good bet for doling out those little 4ml pots in the past - hey, between me and Tara, who assiduously scored them on my behalf every time she was up the West End, I must have at least four of New Look alone!

No, the main objective of our dive into Selfridges was to slay this red lippie lemming of mine once and for all, and after a quick scope of every high end beauty counter from Yves St Laurent and Tom Ford to Benefit and Illamasqua, we narrowed the choices to Laura Mercier Crimson Tint and an Armani Sheer Red lipstick, the name of which escapes me. I plumped for the Laura Mercier in the end a) because Katie swore black, blue, white and red that it suited me, b) because it was cheaper than the Armani - I never actually got as far as inquiring, but you just know that it had to be! - and c) because my natural dark pink lip tone kept dragging the Armani red back to pinky-neutral YLBB territory. This was as unhelpful as looking foolishly scarlet, especially at that price, whatever it may have been.


Some weeks have passed, and it is dawning on me that if I can carry off the Laura Mercier, I must have suited the other lipsticks all along, which are in similar vein really. The Revlon Sizzle is perhaps a slightly warmer, more orange-y red, while the Candy Apple is in the same sheer mid-red territory as the Laura Mercier. Crucially not too blue on my olive skin. So the upshot of all of this is that I have been wearing overtly red lipstick in public on a number of occasions since my outing with Katie. Nobody has screamed and recoiled in horror, not a single small child has pointed at me and sniggered, and no one has refused to serve me in a shop. This Christmas I may finally have overcome my irrational hang up about red lippie after all, just in time to accessorise the holly.


NB Bonus points to anyone who spots Bloody Frida's pennants in the background!

Coming up in Part 2: The press night of The Card Shark Show, and an entertaining detour en route.

Photo of Dior perfume counter from, other photos my own

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Bitesized Not Quite Reviews Of Perfume-Themed Books: No 2 - Chanel: An Intimate Life By Lisa Chaney

I consider myself a conscientious person. I dutifully fill in census forms, while some of my friends rail and moan and make up pretend religions; I feel I should have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday - even if I usually fail - and I always pick up my own litter. And when it comes to books, in the 49 years since I learnt to read "into myself", I have only abandoned one book mid-way through. I can't recall the title, but it was a Henry James, not even one of the longest ones. It ended up in a rubbish bin attached to a lamp post outside a launderette in Swindon, and the vision of me throwing the book away haunts me still - I just had to put some physical distance between my person and the frustrating book which had so spectacularly failed to engage my attention.

Well, to be precise, I had only abandoned one book till this year, when I gave up reading Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney at Page 189. I am not proud of this fact, but at least I didn't throw the book away. That would have been rather ungracious on my part, as Chanel: An Intimate Life was a complimentary copy from the publishers, Penguin. I must say it looks rather well on my antique bookcase, which dates in fact from Coco Chanel's era. It has a nifty quilted-effect dust jacket, and is one of the best dressed spines on its shelf (spot the other perfume-themed books in the close up lower down!).

So why did I give up on this book, given my usually conscientious nature in all things? Well, quite simply, it is a very pronounced case of TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Now I don't mean by that that there are titillating details of Coco Chanel's love life, as it wasn't as "intimate" as all that, not that I am particularly shockable in that regard. If anything, the numerous colourful euphemisms for "prostitute" which pepper the book are its standout highlight, "croqueuses de diamants" and "grandes horizontales" being my personal favourites.

No, what I mean by "too much information" is quite literally that. Rachel Cooke writes in her review of the book in The Observer: "there is no doubting Chaney's tenacity as a researcher....But there is something desultory about her narrative, and she sometimes struggles to say what she means." I take her point about the lacklustre pace of the action, which does feel long and drawn out much of the time, but for me the nub of the problem is simply the fact that there is so much detail about Chanel's life - the book is about 450 pages long - that I am just not interested to know.

Hey, I am not even interested in knowing that much about my own life.

Yes, I shot my atttention span not long after the death of Coco's lover, Boy Capel, in a car accident in the South of France, a strand of the biography that interested me more than most. However, by Page 189, just as we were about to be introduced to Dimitri Pavlovich, something snapped and I put the book down for good. Turns out that Pavlovich was another lover, so that might have been an absorbing interlude for all I know, but I am afraid I was "biographied out" at that point. Minutiae overload. And it was only 1921.

So in summary, if you are fascinated by the life of Coco Chanel to a level way, way beyond a passing interest in the woman who founded the iconic fashion and perfume house that bears her name, this painstakingly researched biography may be the very ticket. Sadly, in my case it was just a source of personal anguish at my lack of staying power and all-round flitter-readerness.

For the sake of good order, here is a link to Olfacta of Olfactarama's take on this book, which I had deliberately not read until now. It tells you some more about the coverage of the book, and as much about Olfacta's strength of character as that of Coco Chanel, because Olfacta clearly made it to the end...

Sunday 9 December 2012

Bitesized Not Quite Reviews Of Perfume-Themed Books: No 1 - The Rottweiler By Ruth Rendell

I guess with a title like The Rottweiler, any kind of review - or even a not quite one such as this - was bound to be "bitesized", in a manner of speaking. I must firstly confess to not having read much of anything lately. This has been partly due to the upheaval of moving and the cat being ill, but equally to the fact that the central heating system at Bonkers Towers is seriously underpowered. Compound this with an original Edwardian cast iron bath that turns hand hot water to barely tepid in a matter of seconds, and you have a recipe for showers. Or you would do if I had one. In this instance you merely have a recipe for Very Business-like Baths. And before you ask (very reasonably) what all this has to do with a thriller boasting a perfume theme, the thing is that I do most of my reading in the bath, or used to at the old house.

So it has taken me almost nine months to read this book and finally finish it. In truth I think I would have made speedier progress - in or out of the bath - if it had been more engrossing. I am a big fan of the thriller genre as a rule: I devour all those Kathy Reichs with "Bones" in the title, for example, and equally enjoy sensationalist TV programmes of what ex-Mr Bonkers used to take pleasure in calling the "forensic prostitute" genre, on the basis that the killers' victims were very often ladies of the night.

Not so in The Rottweiler, as the murderer is dubbed. He does murder young women - a whole clatter of them indeed - and takes an item of jewellery from their dead body as a trophy. Curiously, he doesn´t do any biting, just garotting, so the name of the book is a bit of a misnomer. And by the same token, though the novel does indeed have a perfume theme - central to the MO of the killer, no less - it doesn´t make its appearance till about Page 320, by which point I have long since lost interest in the otherwise lacklustre characters and plot. Which is a shame, as the revelation of the perfume connection is dark and deeply disturbing when it comes.

Yes, from Page 1 I was keeping an eagle nostril out for references to fragrance, and apart from a few desultory mentions of so-and-so wafting this or that unspecified scent before them, there is very little for a perfumista to get their teeth or nose into. I do recall one character sporting a tuberose scent by Jo Malone (I didn´t know there was one - on the face of it this sounds like an olfactory contradiction in terms!), but that is about it, till you get past Page 300, as I say.

So I would say give this book a miss, belated shocking perfume-themed denouement and all. I like thrillers, and I usually like the work of Ruth Rendell, but this book signally fails to grab me by the jugular.

Sunday 2 December 2012

A Very Fine Cat Used To Live Here: RIP Charlie Bonkers

For the benefit of any regular readers of Bonkers about Perfume who are not also my friends on Facebook, I am breaking this latest hiatus to mention the sad news that I had to put Charlie Bonkers down last month. She was suffering from a triple whammy of ailments, namely chronic kidney disease, deafness, and feline cognitive dysfunction (the cat equivalent of Alzheimer's), and had a pretty poor quality of life. If I am being perfectly honest, owing to Charlie's blood curdling bouts of nocturnal wailing, I was chronically sleep deprived towards the end and wouldn't describe my own quality of life as all that great. However, the decision to let the cat go at the time that I did was primarily to spare her further suffering. For Charlie was drinking and eating very little by this stage, being sick a lot, and had taken to adopting a dejected pose with her head hung over the edge of the bed she slept on. I have since learnt from feline renal forums (you know there had to be some!) that this is called the "Meat Loaf Position", and is typically a sign that the cat is "crashing" ie entering the final stage of the illness.

So the neighbour who had fed Charlie for the past twelve years and I took her to the vet's together, where we gave her as loving and peaceful a send off as anyone could have wished for.


In the immediate aftermath of this final trip to the vet, I was deeply touched by the deluge of good wishes I received on Facebook and in emails from friends, real and virtual. Yes, I guess only 30%? of the well-wishers have met me in the flesh, and probably only 10% at most have met the cat herself, yet the messages of sympathy and support kept coming and I felt greatly buoyed up by them during that first very difficult week. So to anyone reading who was part of that outpouring of kindness, thanks very much again - it meant a lot to me.

A special word of thanks goes to Tara of Olfactoria's Travels for sending me a "condolence travel vial" of one of my favourite perfumes - that I don't even own! - namely Ormonde Jayne Ta'if, to Anna from Edinburgh for the chocolate and aromatherapy oils while Charlie was ill, and to my friend Gillie (she of my birthday herb garden challenge) for making me this commemorative tile. I know the photographs show the tile laid on a rug, but I am going to place it in the porch by the front door, as a memento of Charlie Bonkers, a very fine cat who used to live here. It was only for four months sadly, but I am glad she made the move to the new house - Charlie helped me settle into this new chapter of my life and will be much missed.