Thursday 25 July 2013

Bonkers does Brighton, Bognor, Bosham and Beyond

Bosham Quay - source:
Okay, firstly that title is a slight case of poetic licence...  It should read Hove, Bognor, Chidham and Beyond, the beyond being Sidmouth, but it was worth sacrificing a little geographical accuracy on the altar of alliteration for the sake of a mile or two in either direction.  Yes, I am off in the morning on a lightning tour of various friends and relatives on the south coast.  The lynch pin of my itinerary will be a gathering of the Musson clans near Chichester to mark the occasion of my cousin's wife's 60th birthday.  Her signature scent of Pure White Linen is (somewhat tangentially) featured in this odd post from three years ago. Odd but strangely timely, as a heatwave is also a prominent theme, along with ex-Mr Bonkers' "delicate ecosystem".

But going back to the birthday party for a moment, apparently we are meant to wear a hat - "the sillier the better" - the invitation states.  So I have a choice of a bath hat, an angora beret (my personal favourite, as it is appreciably less silly if one must wear woolly headgear in high summer), and a sort of Peruvian chunky knit number with ear flaps.  This striking item cost me a fiver in Asda Living - I have never worn it and it is strictly "earmarked" for long solitary wintry cycle rides (that obviously never happen).  Plus I have a floaty straw hat that would look completely normal, but which would probably be excluded on those very grounds.

UPDATE:  I have tried on all the hat contenders, and it is just too hot to wear any of them, barring the straw one at a pinch (and a scratch).  If the hat-wearing rule is rigorously enforced, I propose to wear it the wrong way round as a small concession to the spirit of the event.

Mosman the koala modelling the least worst hat backwards

UPDATE 2: Or....what about this idea?  The insertion of Max Rat, my sometime travelling companion on overseas work trips, cunningly transforms the hat into a 'rat's nest'.  Which would be novel!

Saturday 20 July 2013

Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose Perfume - or is it?

Complete with cut out 'V' on the leaf!
This week marks my first anniversary in the new Bonkers Towers.  It has been an eventful year, what between the hydra-headed woodworm, the broken windows and dodgy boiler, the lack of work for half the year and the sadly departed cat.  But there has been much to celebrate too - some strides have been made on the decorating front, and I now have a collection of herbs in pots on the patio. The other thing I love about the garden is that you never know what is going to pop up next, though now that the year has come full circle it should have yielded up all its secrets.  I have especially enjoyed the many varieties of rose that I inherited.  Following our meeting in Brussels last August, I promised Victoria of Bois de Jasmin that I would devote a post to the roses in my garden, but I may have been distracted by Charlie Bonkers' illness around that time, and then the moment passed, the roses went over, and I forgot about it.

But this year the display has been so varied and colourful that I decided to photograph each one before it was too late.  I also gave myself the challenge of sniffing them all in a bid to match any of their scents with a specific rose perfume in my collection.  Or failing that, just to come up with my own take on what roses smell of in their natural habitat.

Before I set to it, a post on Bois de Jasmin entitled The Ultimate Rose Perfume came to mind, in which guest writer Suzanna singles out two scents in particular as being 'true' replicas of roses:


"For its realistic interpretation of fresh roses, Creed’s Fleur de Thé Rose Bulgare has little competition.  After a somewhat perfume-y and oddly “green” start, this one is unmatched rose verisimilitude with green tea over a gently salty ambergris and musk base. Now discontinued, or pulled from production, perhaps to return from the Creed vault at a later date.

Far less expensive – and even more streamlined – is the drugstore icon Tea Rose from The Perfumer’s Workshop.  I’ve had a bottle in my wardrobe forever.  Tea Rose smells of rose oil and little else."

I have tried the former, but have long since used up my decant.  Even though my memory is hazy, I do recall it being a very fine rendition of an actual rose. Tea Rose, however, continues to elude me, with The Perfumer's Workshop being a US brand.

So...over the course of a few days I went about systematically sniffing all the roses in my garden and recording my thoughts.  There were some surprises along the way as you will see.  Oh, and I should point out that I have absolutely no clue what any of them are called, hence why I favoured a Gertrude Stein quote for the title of this post like 'The Name of The Rose', say.  Because in Stein's view, the essential identity or quiddity of the flower is in no way diminished by its lack of a name.  As in avant-garde turn of the century poetry, so in my garden!  Okay, that's a complete cop out, but moving is a summary of my main learning points:

Dark red roses don't smell at all!

Or at least my particular varieties don't, and they are a far cry from the hothouse flowers that are so often thrust in your face at the end of a nice meal in an Indian restaurant:  'Thornless, odourless, soon-to-be-lifeless rose for the lady?'

The above specimen is strangely reminiscent of a red cabbage in cross-section, wouldn't you say?

And here's a picture of the 'control', which was just as scent-free as its friend the other side of the garden.  If you know of a scented red variety - and I have no doubt there must be some! - do tell!

Some pinks are more tasteful - and odiforous - than others

This pink and white number had a very faint scent, which doesn't really warrant any attempt on my part to describe it, however it scores points for variegation.  This is the shade of pink that makes me think of the more unwearable end of the Rimmel lipstick spectrum.  'Get the London look!' urges Kate Moss, the face of Rimmel's ad campaign.  Not unless I was going to a fancy dress party specifically themed around unflattering lipstick shades.  Hmm, that might be fun, actually...

Peachy pink and yellow roses have the most beautiful smell of all

Though not OF peaches, I hasten to add.  I am including in this category peach with red tips, peachy vermilion, peachy pink (like the one pictured at the top of the post) and peachy leaning to yellow.  And the more tasteful shades of pink that aren't strictly peachy.

This one scores points for variegation too, but has the most incredible smell.  How to describe it?  I am not sure I could do justice in words to the scent on its own, not least because the experience of smelling a rose is inextricably bound up with other senses - the visual appreciation of its colour and the caressing touch of its petals. And oddly, rose petals always feel cool to the nose, even on a hot day.

Okay, here goes...The scent itself is 'perfumey' - I know, I know, that is rather a lame descriptor, but it is! Tender.  Delicate.  Fresh.  Honeyed, but never cloying.  Soft and silky.  Heady.  Feminine.  Happy.  Pure. Yielding.  No, it's no good - I give up!  But if you can think of other good adjectives, please do leave a comment with your suggestions.

And here is what I take to be the same variety again, blushing at my compliments about its delicious scent.

This one was so tall I couldn't actually reach up to sniff it, but I am willing to bet it would have smelt just as amazing!

The only rose in my garden which smells like a perfume I own is...

This yellow one!  IUNX Eau Frappée perfectly captures the scent of yellow roses crossed with lemon sorbet.  It is astonishingly refreshing and lifelike.

When it comes to budding, some shapes are more...ahem...aesthetic than others

The above rose illustrates the epitome of a bud opening in a socially acceptable manner.

This rose, notwithstanding its magnificent scent, looks a little too Georgia O'Keeffe - or do I mean Tiny Tears? - for its own good.

Roses are an object lesson in 'blowsy'

When I was at school, we had a number of very strict school rules, including not wearing 'technicoloured underwear' with our uniform, not wearing stripy socks ('the mark of a harlot'), and not loitering outside the Astoria Picture House, where boys from the neighbouring school might attempt to 'wrest' our scarves from us.  Which we took to be a euphemism.  Additionally, although it was the era of Farah Fawcett curls and Carmen heated rollers, we were not allowed to 'titivate' our hair into 'blowsy styles'.  Ever since, I have been drawn to a tousled rumpled look wherever it manifests itself - Alexa Chung's hair, slouchy socks, and roses of a certain age.

Working the blowsy look.


Blowsiest!  Oh, okay, more dying than blowsy, and it is a fine line.  Which leads me neatly to the final part of my rose investigations, which was to see what happens to the scent as the petals finally shrivel up and go brown.

Over the course of a couple of days, I continued to resniff these dead petals at intervals - I know they look like the shocking pink variety higher up the post, which had next to no odour, but trust me, this isn't that one. Initially I would get whiffs of their normal scent interspersed with a musty, dried up smell, plus a hint of indoles, and over time the ratio of mustiness increased till the perfumey scent had totally disappeared.  The petals never got horribly indolic at any point, though I repeated the same exercise with some magnolia petals I found on a tree in the next street and they were off the scale indolic-tangy-phantom ylang-ylangy!  Quite disgusting in the finish.

So there you have it - one rose perfume identified, and a few general colour-scent correlations tentatively advanced - but any horticulturally minded readers are most welcome to shoot these down.  And what better way to round this post off than with a picture of a rose (or two)!

Oh all right then, here's another one!

Wednesday 17 July 2013

'Eau de Wiggo': 4160 Tuesdays Time To Draw The Raffle Numbers, And Bandage Girl Clare's Gallant Ride

Perfume and its copiously stamped and cheerfully spotted box
My friend Clare - owner of the perfumista pooch Meg, who narrowly missed becoming a calendar bitch - is mad on cycling.  No, really, she is completely obsessed with it, going out at every available opportunity to cover 20 miles here and 35 miles there.  She has taken to loitering in Lidl to take advantage of their occasional random deliveries of budget cycling kit, of which she assures me one can never have enough. Given that Clare is a loyal Waitrose shopper - and wouldn't normally be seen dead in a retail outlet that sets the merchandising bar so low as to sell stuff out of its cardboard outers turned sideways, if at all - that gives you as good an indication as any that the woman is bonkers about biking.  In addition to this, Clare is a massive fan of Sir Bradley Wiggins, to the point where she started to refer to herself - with a worrying absence of irony - as 'The Other Bradley'.  In a further worrying development, she then progressed to referring to Bradley Wiggins himself as 'The Other Bradley'.  And I guess that given his recent health issues, prompting him to withdraw from this year's Tour de France, somebody had to step up and be him on a bike for a bit...  I did manage to dissuade her from wearing stick-on sideburns, though these were mooted at one point.

Then at the start of the year, Clare announced her intention to compete in the London to Brighton cycling race, a 50 mile circuit from Clapham Common to the Sussex coast.  A little while later, I met Sarah McCartney on a 'perfumery crawl' in London, and discovered her quirky and eclectic range of scents: 4160 Tuesdays.  My attention was caught by one fragrance, Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers, which was directly inspired by Clare's hero - specifically the moment when Bradley Wiggins was on the podium after winning the Tour de France in 2012.  Sarah McCartney explains the background to the creation of this scent in a blog post, including the peculiarly British resonance of the phrase 'time to draw the raffle' after which she named the perfume:

Bradley's podium moment - source:

'When Sir Bradley Wiggins got up on the podium at the end of the Champs Elysées, with Chris Froome and that bloke who came third, a load of dignitaries, the sprinter Maurice Green and two skinny birds in yellow frocks carrying daffodils and stuffed toys, he addressed the gathered millions, and suggested that it looked like time the draw the raffle numbers.

He did it for the British cycling fans who’d travelled to Paris specially to see him there, the winner of the Tour de France, in his yellow jersey. He wanted to say something that would be meaningless to the rest of the world, because only the British know that when it’s all over, just before we all go home, that’s when we do the raffle. It was outrageous, original and funny. And I wanted to put it in a perfume.

This is a perfume of parts. I wanted the scent of a crowd on a hot day; coffee, tobacco, hot tarmac and linden trees of the Champs Elysées; oiled bicycles; marmalade on toast. I’m not sure if Sir Wiggo had marmalade on toast for breakfast but I’d like to think it was his petit dejeuner of choice the day after.'

I didn't sample Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers the day I met Sarah on our sniffing expedition, but I thought that as a card carrying Bradley fan, Clare simply had to try it.  Try it and very likely wear it on her ride to Brighton.  So I dropped Sarah a line, explaining about my friend's Wiggo fixation and upcoming cycling challenge, and she was kind enough to send a little roll-on of the scent for her and one for me.  Clare was very excited at the prospect of wearing a Bradley-inspired perfume on the big day, and carried on training in earnest.

Nice toenails!

Then, with just three days to go before the event, Clare fell while cycling at 17mph and badly hurt her leg, as well as all but writing off her bike.  Having seen photos of how much her leg swelled, I thought her hopes of riding so soon after her accident must have been scuppered, not least because of the mangled bike.  But a local cycle shop spent seven hours the following day wrenching it back into shape, and by the following Sunday, Clare was - if not good to go exactly, for her leg was still heavily swaddled - thoroughly determined to do the ride.

The day was not without incident, however, for Clare fell from her bike again before even leaving London, but was happily unhurt - or no more hurt that she was already, say. As she reports in a Facebook update after the event:

'It confused the hell out of a first aider when I fell off at a set of lights in London. He couldn't work out how someone had already patched me up, in between my collapsing in a heap and his battling through the crowds of cyclists to pick me up.'

But that fall did not deter her, and I am happy and amazed in equal measure to report that Clare did indeed complete the course, helped by the whiffs of Eau de Wiggo which she caught periodically rising up from whatever you call the equivalent of décolletage on a woman attired in top to toe Lycra.

'I could detect the special Wiggins perfume at every pedal.  Even above the all pervasive aroma of Deep Heat. I explained to my husband that it would spur me on and that I would be like the pre-knighthood Bradley, not this year's quitting Bradley. I would be that gritty Bradley. "You want to be Fat Gritty Bradley?" he queried, mishearing slightly. He has been calling me that ever since.'

And how does it smell, you may be wondering?  Well, like sweet orange-flavoured Shimano gears would be my best attempt at describing it, ie hot oily metal - and there is also a muzzy earthy feel to the scent that might be the tobacco.  Comforting for sure.

Of course I had to write to Sarah again after the race, telling her the good news that my friend had made it to the finishing line despite her set backs, and quoting her take on Eau de Wiggo.

'I did wear the perfume and I could smell it while I rode. Loved it and am sure it helped.'

To which came Sarah's delightfully pithy response:

'It must have worked then.'

Thursday 4 July 2013

The Da Vinci Formulation: Review Of The Perfume Collector By Kathleen Tessaro

The other weekend I finished reading The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro - there are a number of very comprehensive reviews in circulation already, so arguably the blogosphere is not in need of another, but my reading rate has been so woeful of late that the finishing of any book is a remarkable event worthy of commemoration.  In truth, I only took a month or two to read this one, which is a relative romp compared with the seven? that I spent on Alyssa Harad's Coming To My Senses.  This is mainly due to a sudden and inexplicable influx of scalding hot water from the boiler, facilitating a few long wallows in the bath, though I would also say that - conducive reading environment aside - The Perfume Collector is a right old page turner!

Plot summary: One letter will turn newly-married Grace Munroe’s life upside down:

‘Our firm is handling the estate of the deceased Mrs Eva D’Orsey and it is our duty to inform you that you are named as the chief beneficiary in her will. We request your presence at our offices at your earliest convenience, so that we may go through the details of your inheritance.’

There is only one problem. Grace has never heard of Eva D’Orsey.

So begins a journey which leads Grace through the streets of Paris and into the seductive world of perfumers and their muses. An abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank will lead her to unravel the heartbreaking story of her mysterious benefactor, an extraordinary woman who bewitched high society in 1920s New York and Paris.

Yes, I was thoroughly gripped by this fiendishly plotted tale.  For this reason - and also because of its partial setting in Paris - I would liken the novel to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code (which I and only umpteen billion other readers greatly enjoyed!) crossed with Downton Abbey and a goodly squirt of perfume.  The review with which I would most closely align myself is that of Natalie of Another Perfume Blog.  Like her, I find the characterisation a bit two-dimensional and the period feel somewhat lacking - which is all the more marked as the story is alternately held in TWO historical periods, the 1950s and late 1920s, but I was nonetheless kept happily in suspense by the twists and turns of the action.


For The Perfume Collector is, as they say, 'a ripping yarn', and I don't think it is giving too much of the game away to say it features pretty much every theme going, including glittering Gatsby-esque parties, poor orphans in service, gambling cheats, Nazi persecution, sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, marriages of convenience, adultery, a miscarriage, a suicide or two, alcoholism, bisexuality, snobbery, mistaken identity, a high class prostitute, dangerous vegetation and some mysterious and tasteless ceramic figurines.   Well, no, that's an exaggeration, there's no black magic or clowns.  My favourite line in the book refers to a high class escort in New York, Miss Waverley, who plied her trade in a hotel where one of the two female protagonists in the book (Eva d'Orsey) is a maid.  Miss Waverley is teasingly described as 'a regular guest, although not a paying customer herself.  She just appeared, rather as an intriguing footnote to the travel arrangements of some of their wealthier male clients'.

One or two minor things bothered me about the novel: there is a major coincidence when two key characters who knew each other in New York happen to be staying at a hotel in Monte Carlo at exactly the same time.  There wasn't even an event like the Cannes Film Festival or the Grand Prix that might conceivably have brought about that far-fetched collision.  I also worried when these two made an excursion to Grasse on the train.  They decide to stay out late, intoxicated by the heady scent of the jasmine fields.  However, Grasse isn't Crewe or Grand Central Station - certainly not in the 1920s - and I couldn't help thinking they would almost certainly have missed the last train home, which tiny techical detail managed to distract me from the part of the storyline.

Then there are some perfume-related revelations about the other female protagonist (Grace Munroe)'s childhood, which are kept back till very near the end.  I feel sure that, given these childhood associations, Grace would have made a few key connections about the mysterious sequence of events unfolding in her life a heck of a lot quicker.  I also found her abrupt mood swings in her dealings with Monsieur Tissot, the estate agent handling the property she has inherited, a little bewildering.  Then there was also the odd typo and misplaced apostrophe, always guaranteed to wind me up (Place des Vogues, hello?!), but I can't lay the blame for that at Ms Tessaro's door.

Place des Vosges

After the breathtakingly complex plot, the descriptions of various vintage perfumes were the most rewarding aspect of the book for me, and here Kathleen Tessaro is in her descriptive element.

"Opening it, she sniffed the cork.  Its contents had long since evaporated, leaving a slightly grainy amber residue at the bottom of the bottle.  But there was a ghost of the intensely white bloom, undercut by a coolness, an almost metallic airiness, slicing through the depth and lushness that lingered still."

She is also a great ambassador for the fumehead community, extolling the transformative power of fragrance in people's lives:

"Perfume should tell a story – the story of who you are, who you might be, perhaps even of who you fear becoming…all of these things are possible. It’s a very intimate element of a woman, just like her signature or the sound of her voice."

Yes, any book that celebrates the power of perfume to help you "come to your senses" (that very phrase is even used in The Perfume Collector once or twice if my memory serves me), is to be welcomed.  The odd structural and characterisation niggles were vastly outweighed by the being swept - nay, wafted - along by the action until all the chips were down - in Monte Carlo and beyond  - and all the stoppers and secrets were out of the bottle...

Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of The Perfume Collector by the publisher, HarperCollins.