Saturday 25 October 2014

Bonkers turns 5!, and an updated stocktake

I was surprised to clock the fact that today is the fifth anniversary of Bonkers about Perfume! I have missed a couple of anniversaries in past years, due to being sidetracked one way or another: the three year milestone found me still in the midst of house move related chaos, while the four year one fell during a band tour. I did, however, have the forethought to mark my 3.6 year anniversary in June 2013, and so I thought it would be fun to look back at my thoughts on that occasion and see how much, if at all, my views on the perfumed life and blogging have changed.

A number of the themes from that post still hold true: 'the mania is past, but I still love perfume', 'my collection scares and delights me in equal measure', and 'the people matter as much as the perfume, if not more so'.  I am also still very much into 'slow blogging', whether I happen to have work - or not (as has been the case rather too much this year).

But my stance on a few topics has shifted since last year, plus I have thought of a few other things to mention, so here goes...

Decorating killed the perfume fridges

In my 3.6 year post I voiced concerns that the damp atmosphere in my fridges might be doing my perfume collection as much harm as the chilled temperature was doing it good. And then I had the two bedrooms decorated in the second half of 2013 and it took me all of two seconds to decide that whirring lumps of metal and glass are not a particularly aesthetic look, and both fridges were promptly relegated to the garage, where they remain today. One of them is an actual fridge in fact, rather than just a drinks chiller, so it does get pressed into service at Christmas as a temporary turkey repository. My perfumes take their chances in a cupboard under the stairs or shoeboxes under beds - oh, and I have one open receptacle for favourite bottles, that is just kept on the floor, but in a darkish spot.

The late Charlie Bonkers with one of the fridges at the old house

The Facebook ban has lifted - as mysteriously as it appeared!

Back in June 2013, I was troubled by my inability to promote my blog posts on Facebook, owing to the fact that a supposed 'friend' of mine anonymously had reported my blog as 'spammy or abusive', as a result of which I was not able to link to it on an indefinite basis. Then just last week, some two and a half years after this dastardly deed ;), Liz Moores tipped me the wink that the ban had vanished - as she was able to post a proper link to my review of Angélique. I feel like a suspect against whom all charges have suddenly been dropped. So, to reprise the point in my earlier stocktake - 'You can't please everybody' - you can't, but it seems the obstructive effects of trollery have an expiry date after all.

A bit blurry, but featuring an actual Facebook link to my blog!

I am no longer - even ever so slightly - affiliated!

At the time of my post last year I had recently agreed to display a promotional banner for Ormonde Jayne in the side bar of the blog. It was a house I had a lot of time for, and the static banner seemed in keeping with my general scheme - in fact it added a welcome dash of colour in the margins. I was most particular that I didn't want anything flickering or revolving, as that way lies an amusement arcade. However, it had only been up a matter of weeks when the PR company who acted as the go-between in this arrangement was ditched by the brand, taking my little punt at 'monetising' with it. I haven't had the urge to investigate any further tie ups, though I do get a steady stream of strange requests, the most recent being:

"We are on the lookout for fantastic bloggers (like yourself) to join our new blogger program to utilize our site to help earn more money from the products you write about as well as expand your reach with our network of users and social channels!

I would love to schedule a quick chat with you and our CMO about the program, he can explain how it works, what you get and how to get started! Just let me know a time that suits you and which medium (Google Hangout, Skype or phone) is best."

If I was in any doubt about my lack of fit for such a commercial enterprise, somebody suggesting we meet in a 'Google Hangout', whatever that might be, would pretty much nail it.


A Top Sniffs and Nasty Niffs post is not in the offing 

At the start of 2014, I ventured a round up of my favourite perfumes from 2013, dubbing it a  'slightly wonky edition'. For I had sniffed so few of the actual releases from that year that I decided to supplement them with any 'newish' perfumes that had crossed my path in 2013. But when January 2015 comes round, I can't see me attempting even a hybrid post like that, because I am so behind the curve with perfume launches - and testing generally - that such a list would be a complete non-starter. ;)

Guest blogging, and liking the sound of my own voice!

I have noticed a trend in the perfume community to enlist the help of guest bloggers - either to add alternative 'voices' or to maintain a steady flow of content. Even at the five year mark I will be honest and say I don't feel the need to introduce another 'voice' on Bonkers, which may be a bit selfish of me, but there it is. I figure that if someone wants to read a different style or tone of writing they have only to hop across to one of the host of other blogs out there. Put another way, I guess I have yet to get sick of the sound of my own voice, as it were (sorry!). As for the need to maintain regular content, in the spirit of slow blogging I don't adhere to any particular schedule, so that doesn't really apply to me.

I am getting more into skincare

Ex-Mr Bonkers used to joke about my being prone to fads: jogging, sudden urges to walk on Cannock Chase, cooking, knitting, whatever it may be. Perfume seems to be a long running fad at least, albeit at a lower level of intensity. Meanwhile, my interest in skincare is at an all-time high, fuelled as of this week by the doctor taking me off my long term regime of antibiotics to combat acne. From now on, the wellbeing of my complexion is in the sole care of brands such as La Roche-Posay and Paula's Choice, which - however well formulated these products are - is a bit of a scary prospect. I do struggle to follow a single routine though, not least because I have accumulated so many tubes and samples that I want to try all of them out, sometimes even segmenting my face into different trial zones(!) Then other days - or more usually nights - I can't be bothered with all the steps of a proper skincare ritual, and end up just slapping on a bit of Astral, my new surprise cheapie love, which may get a post of its own at some point.

Perfume Land is still a warm and friendly place (by and large)

Much has been written about what a courteous, supportive and generous place Perfume Land is, with its many blogs, Facebook groups and off-line gatherings, both formal and informal. My own experience of the 'perfume scene' has also been very positive and heartwarming in the main. Underlying tensions do sometimes surface, however, and there are even occasional outbursts of mean spiritedness, posturing and borderline thuggery. But I shan't dwell on these. I would say: 'You know who you are', but I am not at all sure they do!


I am still 'bonkers about bathrooms'

My bathroom renovation - research for which has popped up in blog posts over the spring months in particular - has ground to a halt this autumn, owing to all the relevant tradesmen going temporarily awol. As I don't like the thought of being without a bathroom in winter, I probably shan't mount a major cat herding offensive now till next year. But even though the project has stalled, my heart still skips a beat when I see an unusual or particularly sought after sanitaryware fixture. Last night, for example, I spied a Lefroy Brooks deck mounted bath shower mixer set at a friend's house, and was unfeasibly excited!

Finally, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers who have supported Bonkers down the years - or who have only recently come across it! - not forgetting the many who have landed here entirely by mistake. Followers and non-followers, lurkers and regular commenters alike, I salute you all. For while I probably would blether on like this even if no one was out there, knowing someone is reading does make the whole thing feel more worthwhile.

Sunday 19 October 2014

The Scent of the Underground: a finger farce, a phantom note, and sniffing a gaggle of gig-goers

This time last year, I was looking forward to a whole slew of UK gigs by my favourite band, The Monochrome Set - the tour kicked off in Edinburgh on 19th October and finished up in Bristol on 26th. This autumn there has only been the one date, in Brighton last weekend. Well, I tell a lie, as they are playing two gigs in Tokyo next week, but for those of limited means, the Brighton one was the only real contender.

I arrived last Saturday at about 3pm, did a bit of shopping in Boots, then thought I'd best reconnoitre the venue in daylight, as these sorts of places are notoriously tricky to find. True to form, the Green Door Store was tucked away 'under the arches' in an alley behind the railway station. As I rounded the corner and clocked the place - which to its credit did boast a very obvious green door - I spied the guitarist and singer from the band, loitering on the cobblestoned concourse outside. I gave them a thumbs up sign as if to say: 'Hi there, I know where the place is now - see you later', but the singer beckoned me over. As I approached, I noticed that his thumb was bleeding rather profusely, though he seemed oddly detached about it, and had clearly not summoned me for my first aid skills, but rather to pass the time of day while they waited for the promoter to arrive and open up. I couldn't overlook his darkly dripping digit, however, and immediately rummaged in my handbag, producing a cotton wool pad (notionally for mascara malfunctions) and a large fabric strip of Elastoplast, of the type you trim to size. Assuming you have scissors on you, which I didn't. So the singer dabbed the cut with the cotton wool and slapped the entire bandage on his thumb, all the while playing down the seriousness of the cut. 'This is just a little flesh wound', he remarked. 'It's nothing compared to Andy's finger!'

Having so recently injured my own finger, I was finding this inventory of band hand mishaps rather Twilight Zone-y. I asked what the bass player had done to himself, and they said they didn't know, but his finger was very swollen apparently, and he hadn't played a note since he hurt it. Whether he would be able to rise to the occasion that night was a moot point in fact, assuming he got here at all - there was a snarl up of some kind at Gatwick Airport. My Florence Nightingale duties discharged, I went back to the hotel to rest after the long journey down, and wished them luck at the sound check.

Just before nine I headed back to The Green Door Store, bumping into an old fan called Warren and his wife, who were looking rather lost at the station. I offered to accompany them to the venue, which they eagerly accepted, as they had been going round in circles trying to find the correct alley. As we approached the entrance, another fan, Andy - who had made the trip from Cumbria, no less! - came out to greet me, instantly proffering his left wrist and the right side of his neck for me to sniff. On his neck was Ormonde Jayne Zizan, on his wrist Isfarkand, both of them procured by yours truly. I pronounced him very fragrant, and watched as a look of bemusement came across the faces of Warren and his wife. Quickly entering into the spirit of this strange masonic ritual, Warren thrust his neck in my direction and asked me to guess the identity of his strongly spicy woody scent, but I was floored. It turned out to be Armani Diamonds - I clearly need a refresher of my mainstream sniffing knowledge.


Once inside, I made a beeline for the merch table, where the stalwart sales team of Caryne and her husband had been in place since 5.30pm. Caryne instantly stood up, leant across the table and announced brightly: 'Smugglers Soul, as requested!' A long time Lush fan, her rate of purchase from the line has definitely gathered momentum in recent years, partly due to my influence, I like to think. Anyway, Smugglers Soul did smell of a very fine sandalwood as billed, and I would have liked to have tested it myself on skin.


As I went through to the room where the gig was held, I smiled at the thought of my fellow fans dutifully applying perfume and offering themselves up to my questing nose. It struck me as a happy confluence of my two favourite hobbies, and lifted my already high spirits even further.

The bass player turned up at last, and stoically played his way all through the set and an encore or two. I went up to him afterwards, thanked him for pushing himself to the limit in this way, and inquired which finger it was. One look at his left hand told me that it was the same one I had hurt, since it was nearly twice the size of the others! He had hit it on a fixture in a tube train, I didn't catch what exactly.

And there was one more perfume-related incident before the evening was out...I was wearing Guerlain Attrape-Coeur - possibly rather liberally applied - because in the course of the post-gig mingling the singer inclined his head towards me and said: 'Hmm, is there cinnamon in that?' I was put on the spot rather, but in my cursory reading of reviews of this scent I couldn't rightly recall any mention of cinnamon. I replied that I didn't think so, though not all the notes are always listed. He took another sniff and declared: 'Yep - it's definitely there. And I am not sure cinammon should come into direct contact with human skin.'

Well, that's me told, haha. Good job I wasn't wearing Puredistance BLACK, I thought! ;)

Have you ever had someone say they don't care for a perfume you are wearing because of a note you didn't think was in it?

And for those of you familiar with Attrape-Coeur, do you detect cinnamon in it?

Source: Pinterest

PS For another post featuring perfume and a gig, check out the latest postcard from Undina!

Sunday 12 October 2014

"2ml or not to fill?" Musings on the etiquette of sample sizes

Endangered 1ml vials spell out their fate
My friend Clare was in Florida earlier this year and reported that since her last visit, the concept of the 'bottomless' cup of coffee - ie with refills available on tap - has been extended to main meals (slightly confusingly called 'entrees' in the US), such that she was offered a 'bottomless plate'. I guess this is really just a rebranding of the 'All you can eat buffet', except that presumably the wait staff replenish your plate for you, I don't know. But anyway, Clare reported this latest manifestation of the creeping trend in the Western world towards 'supersizing', remarking that if she were ever to take up such an offer, she would soon be far from 'bottomless' herself.

In parallel, in recent years I have noticed that perfume quantities exchanged between perfumistas appear to have got larger than at the start of my hobby, six years ago. Back then, if someone agreed to send you five samples of perfumes to try, you would typically receive five 1 or 1.5ml vials with stoppers in a little plastic bag. Invariably accompanied by a boiled sweet. If perfume extras were included, they were most likely also of the same sizes.

A swap package of yore

Over time though, sending a 1ml vial as a 'sample' has become almost unheard of, unless the sender is really short of the perfume in question, or it is insanely expensive - something like a Puredistance scent springs to mind, or an extrait strength, say - or where you only had 1ml left in total and are trying to split it into vanishingly small fractions. These days, when perfumistas are sending people samples, they often send quite a bit more than is necessary merely to test a scent, sometimes even a quantity around the 3ml mark or above, which for me is the threshold which distinguishes a sample from a decant. I am not sure that 3ml is the official definition, or even if there is one, but above 2.5ml starts to feel like a decant to my mind.

These larger samples are usually put into spray bottles, which makes the testing process a lot more enjoyable than the dabbing ritual from the 1ml vials. I welcome this trend, as you can spray at will multiple times and get a really good idea of whether you like the scent or not. That said, I am not always as forthcoming myself with goodly amounts, mainly because I have these three receptacles in my decanting stash to choose from...

My paltry collection of sample vial variants

- 3ml plastic spray vials (just a few left now out of a bulk consignment from Accessories for Fragrance).

- 1.5 plastic snap on vials (these are the ones that Freddie of Smellythoughts got me into, which are intended to be used for centrifuge samples. I like them, because they are cheap, available in the UK, and you can dispense with funnels and their associated washing, a tedious task from which I find myself increasingly shying away. I remember Mr Bonkers joking that one of the things he appreciated after I left him was not finding metal funnels lurking in the washing up water. ;) Hmm, I say they are easy to fill 'commando', ie without funnel, but - perhaps becasue of their tapered shape - you get serious splashback after about 0.75ml or so, meaning that I end up just giving people 1ml again like in the old days - at best! It doubtless looks a bit parsimonious on my part, but they are so user-friendly for the decanter, at least.

Tapered 'Freddie' vials - 1.5ml

- 1ml glass vials with stopper (also from a big - nay, huge! - consignment from Accessories for Fragrance). Old habits clearly die hard to have prompted me to buy them...Yet I hardly ever send someone a sample in one of these except for the exclusions mentioned above, because it combines funnel requirement, non-sprayability and stinginess in one inconvenient package. I really do recall their being the standard vehicle for samples back in the day, though!

When I have finally exhausted my supplies of the 3ml plastic sprayers, I might well invest in some slightly smaller glass ones instead - 2ml or 2.5ml, maybe, if they do them in that. I am still partial to the 'Freddie' snap on vials, so can see me getting more of those, even though they do feel rather unorthodox and out of step with pefumista sampling etiquette, as I perceive it.

Sample perfection - unmistakably Undina :)

If the 2ml or 2.5ml bottle is the gold standard receptacle for perfume sampling - note that it doesn't even have to be quite full to appeal - what makes me personally very uncomfortable is when people send me large amounts of samples I have asked to try - or (worse still) of random extras enclosed in the package. If I haven't tested a scent it seems ludicrously reckless to do that, and the largesse behind the gesture is trounced for me by the potential for waste. I once received a whole set of large extra samples - well decants, as there must have been 4-6ml in each - and hated all of them. Then I felt bad for the rest of the day before screwing up the courage to thank the perfumista in question for their generosity...through gritted teeth.

So that is what I like and don't like in the state of the sampling world as it is today. I do feel I am not pulling my weight here in my choice of packaging, though in the case of international shipments, I tend to throw in amusing red herrings to distract the customs wallahs such as scraps of wool, buttons, bookmarks or pieces of fabric, which hopefully raise a smile at least.

Foxing fodder for customs officials

So...I would be most interested to know what others perceive as the 'etiquette' of sampling - if you think there is such a thing, however loosely and unofficially?

And what are you own pet peeves about types of vial or fill levels - specifically for samples rather than decants?

Wednesday 1 October 2014

An Ealing Comedy? Holly Cranmer *and* Sarah McCartney (of 4160 Tuesdays) come for tea at Bonkers Towers

I just learnt that Ealing is the third largest of Greater London's 32 boroughs, with a population of 318,500, spread in turn across 23 wards each with c13,800 residents. The population of Greater London meanwhile is 8.3m, meaning that a mere 4% of Londoners live in Ealing Borough, the widest definition I could find of the place! In view of these compelling population statistics, it is all the more remarkable that in the space of 10 days, not one but TWO perfumistas from Ealing made the detour to call in on me in Stafford....I make the odds of that happening - using London (rather than the whole universe ;) ) as our universe - 0.000016. But in fairness it is a long time since I did probability at school.

Yet come they did, Holly on her way back from some family history inquiries n Shropshire, and Sarah and her husband Nick on their drive home from a vintage fair in Morecambe. There are a number of similarities between the two visits: both prompted a flurry of house cleaning; especially the bathroom, as I had been bigging up my house as a more well appointed alternative to the nearby Stafford Services - you know, boasting that there were no broken hand dryers in the Ladies or stainless steel teapots with chronically dripping lids. Both also prompted a flurry of baking - the same cake in fact, with slightly different decoration. Holly additionally brought some macarons from a baker in Market Drayton, as a humorous nod to my recent post on the subject. They weren't quite comparable to Ladurée, but they were certainly the nearest match I have tasted.

Holly pre-perfume pandemonium

Holly had brought a few batches of things for me to try, while I lugged my plastic containers of bottles and decants from out under the hall stairs. The usual chaos and scented cacophony ensued, and we both ended up with a little bag of decants from our respective stashes. Holly had given me her sample of Tauer Perfumes Une Rose Vermeille, but in an amusing turn of events - not unconnected with the aforementioned chaos - she accidentally tidied it away and took it home with her again. As luck would have it, I have won a decant of this very scent in Natalie's 'closing down giveaway' on Another Perfume Blog, and when it comes I will be grateful to Holly for alerting me to this beauty.

Stock photo of the garden!

Sarah and Nick's arrival was delayed by the usual holiday snarl ups on the M6, which is just as well really, for moments before they were due to turn up, I was still scrubbing tomato and pepper soup with a toothbrush out of the sisal rug on the kitchen floor. And swabbing gory blobs off every single cupboard door, plus a few walls and skirting boards, with balls of damp paper towel. I wasn't planning to serve soup, I might add, but as household objects are wont to do, it just kind of leapt out when I opened the fridge door to get some milk.

It was a pretty warm day, so we were able to have tea and cake (the Smartie variant pictured) in the garden. Having clocked the elaborate hospitality rituals that go on at The Wall of Scent functions, unbeknownst to Sarah, I had been having practice runs on and off all morning with my £10 bargain Wedgwood teapot and some little cups, on the assumption that Sarah would be too refined to be a 'bag in the mug' kind of person. In the event, Sarah opted for an elderflower spritzer (ha - didn't see that coming!), while Nick asked for coffee. Luckily I keep some individual plastic filter cups for just such an eventuality (don't drink the stuff myself), and Nick pronounced it very acceptable.

A parade of 4160 Tuesdays scents 

Sarah and I chewed the cud about the perfume scene in general, and I remarked on the excellent press coverage her indie brand 4160 Tuesdays has been enjoying lately. We also chatted about the vintage event they had just attended in Morecambe, about Nick's work - and my lack of it. ;) I am sure I must have bored them with tales of my home improvements at some point - Sarah certainly copped for the full house tour. And as they were leaving, Sarah left me a serried rank of purse sprays of her scents, namely:

Doe in the Snow
Tart's Knicker Drawer
The Sexiest Scent On the Planet Ever (IMHO)
New York '55
Rome 1963
London 1969

Nick's sofa-toning teal shirt - he can come again!


Of these, my favourites are the first two: Doe in the Snow is a chilly, citrus-forward, peach chypre, not unlike a sort of lemony Mitsouko, with a glacial blast of aldehydes and a crystalline, candied peel effect in the opening. I was also reminded a little bit of scents like Guerlain Sous le Vent and The Party in Manhattan, but it was less herbal than the former, and less filthy than the latter. And generally more citrus-y and modern in feel than either, though the chypre structure does give it a classic twist.

Top notes: grapefruit, cedrat, yuzu, peach aldehyde, snow
Heart notes: cedarwood, rose, jasmine, musk
Base notes: opoponax, oakmoss, leather, green tea absolute


Tart's Knicker Drawer (formerly 'Tart's Boudoir') is billed as a 'floral amber oriental', and is quite sweet, with a pronounced raspberry note, and generally powdery and aldehydic at all times. It has a retro vibe, like the cosmetics brand Benefit or its cheaper imitation, Soap & Glory. Here I saw a slight resemblance with Lyn Harris's La Poudrée for M & S (review here), though Tart's Knicker Drawer is more approachable and easy to like. Now the expression 'smelling of a tart's boudoir' is traditionally an insult levelled at someone reeking of too much perfume, but notwithstanding the lengthy note list, Tart's Knicker Drawer doesn't feel 'too much' at any point. Nor, despite its raunchy name, is it remotely animalic or smutty. At the risk of being coarse, one can only conclude that the tart in question was having a bit of a slow day.

Top notes: bergamot, orange, grapefruit, pink peppercorn
Heart notes: raspberry, rose, jasmine, sandalwood, cedarwood, violet, tuberose
Base notes: amber, musk, vanilla, benzoin, tobacco

A pensive and sunlit Sarah

I accompanied my visitors to their car, which was filled to the gunwhales with luggage, purchases and all manner of vintage paraphernalia. I was particularly interested in some Liberty fabric squares Sarah had bought at a mill (or a cheap fabric emporium of some kind!) on their way down here, along with several bolts of floral fabric.

I will end this post with a photo of a tea room in Chester I visited recently with my friend Gillie - it reminded me vividly of Sarah and her devotion to pretty vintage style..

Correction - I will end this post with a new infographic Sarah has designed to help people pick out scents from the 4160 Tuesdays range that will best match their personal taste and the wearing occasion. If you look closely, you will spot that there is (quite fortuitously) a scent category with my name on it!

PS The lowdown on Ealing Comedies may be found here...