Sunday, 14 September 2014

Perfume-themed pratfalls - could fragrance be a hazchem after all?

Could the label be more admonitory?
I have been quite disparaging in the past about the new postal regulations. These prohibit the sending of flammable liquids - including perfume - overseas, while allowing shipments of fragrance within the UK, as long as they bear an ID8000 label, declaring them to be 'exempt from requirements for dangerous goods transport document'. If they are exempt, and not considered risky to transport in this country, you have to wonder why they even have to carry such a label. Why not put one on everything from CDs and books to clothes and Interflora? After all, these things aren't dangerous either, unless you stab yourself with the roses or swallow the buttons on your Boden Henley top...

When sending perfume, it gets more tricky when you have a package full of homemade samples or decants, as is frequently my - and other fumeheads' - wont. The Post Office doesn't have a category for these, so you have to pretend they are the manufacturer's carded samples or the clerk could refuse to accept the package altogether. And because of problems with these grey areas of classification, I tend to flit from PO to PO in the hope that I will find more accommodating staff the further I roam - or staff who have yet to brand me as an awkward and deviant customer at least. I am reminded of those people who are addicted to over-the-counter painkillers, and travel far and wide to supermarkets and chemists out of their normal area, scoring a couple of packets of their analgesic of choice in each outlet.

So up till now you will have heard me speak no ill of perfume, other than to note that a few all-natural scents occasionally brought me out in a rash, prompting me to desist from wearing the stuff for a while.

Could I construe this as the 'Serge Lutens shroud'?

And then the other week, I was making up a swap package comprising lots of little vials of precisely the unorthodox type the Royal Mail cannot contend with, when I accidentally spilt a couple of ml of Serge Lutens Un Lys directly on my dining room table. It is sod's law that if such a mishap were going to happen, it would be with a Paris Exclusive of which I had very little left in the first place. However, it was not so much the wasted perfume that troubled me as the fact that old Serge fetched the varnish / colour right off a small patch of a beloved piece of furniture. Seemingly it is a case of redoing the whole top for a proper even finish, though I did have a tentative go on just the affected area with a selection of materials from olive oil to Pledge. There are some really random restorative agents cited on the Internet, would you believe? - I am sure salt and ammonia, white spirits and vinegar were amongst them. Maybe I will eventually come to think of the pale patch as yet another characterful sign of the table's great age (it dates from 1790), along with a number of other dents and black rings it has sustained down the years - presumably from flagons of porter and the like.

Resin crystals - 'myrrh trouble than it was worth'...;)

So that was one incident of perfume behaving badly...The next also occurred in the dining room, though it wasn't directly caused by perfume. Still, perfumery materials were involved and were the immediate trigger for what was to follow...

A little while ago - ever on the lookout for new ways of experiencing scent - I had a go at burning some myrrh crystals that my friend Gillie had given me around the time of the We Three Kings joint blogging project in 2010. The procedure involves igniting a charcoal disc and dropping a few crystals on it once it starts to smoulder. The crystals are supposed to emit a fragrant smoke - we are back to the very origins of perfume and its name indeed ('per fumum') - from the days when ancient Egyptians would burn incense as a sacrifice to their gods.

Except that the overriding scent I got from my own experiment was of the burning charcoal - I was strongly reminded of barbecue fuel, while the myrrh scent was undetectable. I wondered if I had set the crystals on the disc too soon, before it had settled down to a quieter burn rate - a case of 'premature incineration', if you will. Anyway, Gillie offered to come over this weekend with her own resin-burning tackle, and show me how it should be done. Accordingly, Saturday lunchtime found us sitting at my dining room table, rubbing our respective crystals in our hands to see which ones were properly fragrant. It seems my myrrh crystals had pretty much lost their scent for whatever reason, so we decided to burn a blend of Gillie's, containing frankincense and myrrh.

Before getting stuck into our pyrotechnical antics, Gillie suggested we open a window. I should mention that my windows are the old-fashioned sash style - I have since learnt that their full name is 'vertical double-hung box-framed sliding sash windows', which I find oddly amusing. I don't open my windows very often, and sometimes they are quite sticky when I try to do so, on account of a fairly recent paint job. You have to push the bottom pane up from the top with all your might, basically. We did eventually get the bottom pane to shift up, but somehow - and it is all a queasy-making blur now - I managed to trap my finger between the two wooden frames. Gillie responded with lightning speed, yanking the pane down again and freeing my rather limp and lifeless digit. An afternoon in A & E later, we established that it wasn't broken, but crushed and cut, and I will lose the nail in due course. Which is a bit ironic, as after years of nail biting I had just kicked this childhood habit for long enough to paint my nails. A purple colour to boot (Chanel Paradoxal), which is also ironic, as the injured nail is doubtless that colour naturally now, though I couldn't bear to look - not even at the X-Ray! For the rest of yesterday and all last night I had to keep the finger elevated above my heart, but I think the bleeding has stopped now, so I can do a few more things with the hand. Though not peel carrots. Or change the bedding. Or type properly.

So this one-handed post has taken rather longer than usual!

And Gillie and I agreed to take a rain check on the incense burning, possibly opening the front door instead next time. I will report back if I crack it some day and would recommend this presumably more intense fragrance experience. Meanwhile, it's back to joss sticks and matches for me. And I shan't be sporting a full set of painted nails any time soon...


Unknown said...

Eieieieiei. So your accident was at least slightly scent related... I admire your attitude of turning the pain into a bonkers post. I would have just sulked and cried in my pillows.

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

Always on the lookout for blog material, haha - I got a post out of a procedure to remove a suspect mole once because I ended up chatting with the surgeon while I was on the operating table about his wife's taste in perfume (all things Sophia Grosjman, as it turned out).

Which is not to say I haven't done my fair share of blarting and nearly fainting - mostly at the hospital, it must be said.

Asali said...

Oh poor you, I'm so sorry to hear that. As a child I held onto the inside frame of a door (opposite of where the handle is), when a classmate happened to rush through in a rage and deciding to slam the said door. I think I know and feel your pain.
I hope your will appreciate your nail extra, and enough to throw the bad habit completely, when it grows out.
As for the postal regulations. tut tut

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

Having read about your toe curlingly awful childhood accident, I'd say you do indeed know and feel my pain - and I yours. Now hopefully much faded by the passage of time, though I can well believe you would never forget something like that.

Yes, I think I have changed how I see my nails as a result of this accident, and will treat them with a new respect.

Yuki said...

I am so sorry to hear about your finger! You have a wonderful sense of humor about it all, though, and I couldn't help but laugh at loud at some parts (like "myrrh trouble" and the ironically purple nail polish...). I hope your finger gets back to its normal non-purple self soon, and you have my admiration for your dedication to perfume experiences!

Ines said...

Oh, so sorry about your finger. It is lucky you didn't break it though.
I always wondered about those burning incense things - I somehow stay away as it sounds like it might be overpowering...
Looking forward to hearing how it goes. :) Next time.

Vanessa said...

Hi Yuki,

Thanks for your good wishes. I do try to see the funny side of things, which there often is to even some quite harrowing experiences. And yes, I am interested in all things scented, as with my post on 'passive vaping' not so long ago. Since I wrote it, there has been news in the press that e-cigarettes might be more harmful than they are said to be, so I may have to revise my opinion on that scented activity if I ever find myself in the same situation...;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Thanks - I do consider myself lucky that the damage wasn't more serious.

Gillie tells me it is a wonderful scent that fills your house when you burn incense, and how her friends remark on it when they visit. You may be right about it being quite a strong smell though, which looking back may actually be the reason Gillie suggested opening the window...;)

Tara said...

I feel nauseous just thinking about it V, so you're doing very well to re-visit it so soon in a post and one you had to type one handed which must have taken ages.

I wish you speedy healing.

I'd be interested in how you get on with the myrrh if this hasn't put you off for good. There must be something in the air - ha ha - as I ordered some Nag Champa last week because I'd like my house to be like Gillie's and have a nice incense-y aroma. It may not to be to my taste but it'll be fun experiementing with different types if not.

Suzanne said...

Ouch, ouch, ouch! I'm sorry you hurt your finger, Vanessa and hope it gets better soon.

Your post actually puts me in the mood to burn something smelly (as does the suddenly chilly, early autumn weather) - and though I have some frankincense tears down in my basement, that my husband bought to put on our woodburning stove, I think I'll just take the easy route and burn the rose paper d'Armenie that a perfumista friend just sent me (it smells so gorgeous!). As the smoke wafts upwards, I'll send some healing wishes on it to you. :-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

It did take me ages to write the post, but it felt kind of cathartic somehow. ;)

We will definitely revisit the myrrh-burning methodology in due course, and I may post about again if it proves particularly memorable.

Meanwhile, I really rate Nag Champa incense in joss stick form. That is also what Gillie uses if she just wants a quick way of burning incense in the house.

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Healing wishes in all forms much appreciated. :) I haven't come across rose-scented papiers d'Armenie but they sound wonderful. That is a clever idea to put frankincense tears on a wood burning stove - I suppose it is like throwing that sauna liquid on coals or whatever it is that heats a sauna! You get a sudden fragrant burst on the smouldering combustible materials.

Tara said...

I'm glad it was beneficial then!

Good to hear you rate Nag Champa. My sticks are on their way.

I'd love to hear Gillie's incense preferences if that's possible when/if you re-visit, for my own selfish reasons obviously :)

Vanessa said...

PS Gillie popped round this afternoon with a bowl of homemade lentil dal for me, and I suggested burning some of the regular flavour of papiers d'Armenie for fun. Very fragrant they were too, so thanks for the tip. I had only previously sniffed the paper! (No windows were opened, I might add.)

Vanessa said...

Tara, apparently there are different qualities of Nag Champa, but Gillie rates this one, which is a classic make:

Regarding the types of resin crystal she favours, I will make inquiries for you when we brave this burning method again, as I am sure we will. ;)

Tara said...

I ordered that one! Great. Many thanks, V and to Gillie too.

Much appreciated.

Vanessa said...

Jolly good! Will report back on the crystals in due course.

Blacknall Allen said...

Ouch, hope your finger heals up soon. I once dropped a cupboard door on a finger and know how that feels. I couldn't feel it for a day and kept checking for gangrene.

As to the varnish removing properties of scents, I learned this the hard way when a bottle of Miss Balmain burned a perfect square into the top of my antique chest of drawers! I had not noticed a drop running down the side of the bottle-eternal vigilance is required to shield your surfaces.

Anonymous said...

Ow ow ow ow ow - you poor soul, Bonks. Healing vibes issuing forth from the Forth as you read.

I have to report that I had little joy burning a charcoal disc to heat frankincense resin: lots of white smoke, yes, but not my idea of good time unless you want to create a pea-souper fog indoors! I'll stick to using the sticks and cones (that won't break anyone's bones or set off the smoke alarms).

Look after yourself, please.

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

Whoa, ow, I am retrospectively feeling your pain all too easily. You are brave to even check your finger for gangrene - I refuse to look at mine. ;)

Commiserations on your Miss Balmain spillage - I have learnt my lesson all right that perfumes and fine furniture do not mix...

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Healing vibes gratefully received! My first attempt at burning incense was quite light on the smoke front, but if and when Gillie and I have another attempt at this, I hope there isn't too much smoke or I will be reverting to joss sticks full-time. Another reason behind her suggestion about opening the window, I expect. ;)

Don't forget to vote now! Counting on you and Mr A in E to do the right thing. Oh look - that is nearly A & E!

Undina said...

I finally got to comment on your post (I read it a couple of days ago but I hate typing with one finger ( ;-) ) on the phone screen. Now I am at my laptop so I can express my sympathy and also send healing vibes your way. A. sends his regards - he had a similar experience with a car door a couple of years ago and didn't enjoy it at all! I hope you'll survive the cruelty of not being able to peel a carrot or two for a while (do they sell them peeled in your neck of the woods?)

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Haha - you understand about the typing with one finger. ;) I am currently on about six or seven, but it isn't necessarily easier - I make a lot of mistakes as the other fingers have to cover unexpectedly for the letters the middle finger used to do. I hope I get my touch typing skills back at the end of this!

Thanks for the healing vibes and am sorry A has had a similar experience. An encounter with a car door sounds excruciating. ;( I am just managing to peel carrots now, thanks (very, very carefully, using two fingers or a finger and thumb to hold the carrots steady). This wasn't possible initially, but I have a bit more flexibility in that hand now, as long as I don't overdo it.