Tuesday 27 January 2015

Chromatically correct (scented) candles, and a Lidl bit of customer care (Suddenly!)

Lidl Suddenly Madame Glamour the candle - aka scenting your house with ambient Keira Knightley

Apologies for the longer than normal hiatus since my hyacinth post - why, that is nearly assonance, though not quite! I managed to climb out of my temporary slough of despond as the month went on - thanks to the encouraging comments from readers, a spot of 'beditation', avoidance of the news, and (latterly) the comforting furry presence of my sometime cat boarder, Speights. He stayed for ten days, and his toy-savaging and other antics are lovingly chronicled on Facebook if you are my friend over there. And now, finally, I have a bit of work at last, which has given me a further fillip, but of course less time for blogging!

I did want to cover a couple of Lidl-related topics in this post, though: the first concerns the Suddenly Madame Glamour scented candle @ £3.99, in an on-message pink colour. For like the Tiny Tears doll of my youth - or rather not of my youth, as my mother wouldn't let me have one, because it was all too anatomically correct - so a pink shade for a candle based on a Coco Mademoiselle perfume dupe is chromatically correct. This candle may have been out for a while, but I only spotted it in the run up to Christmas. Anyway, I had to have a sniff, and it is a very faithful rendition of Coco Mademoiselle, as candles go - a pretty blunt and forgiving medium, admittedly. The scent was not overtly synthetic or over the top, as scented candles can so often be. I have spent hours in the untidy and ransacked aisles of T K Maxx, systematically sniffing every scented candle whose packaging is remotely broachable by the uncommitted customer, and believe me, I have smelt a few frogs in my time. So I would commend the candle to anyone who likes Suddenly Madame Glamour or Coco Mademoiselle and who would be happy to scent their home with even a suggestion of the wispy, wafty, diaphanous Keira.

I didn't buy one, I might add, as I prefer my scented candles to be more meditative and not mere replicas of a perfume that I love. Yes, I have just realised that I never seek out the candle corollary of a perfume I know and rate, but rather other combinations of notes that make for a happy and low key bouquet, invariably along the woody / incensey spectrum - or maybe involving sandalwood. Only ever a hint of vanilla, mind, as it is a slippery slope to the hellish sticky fug of cheap vanilla tea lights.

Yes, it's shaped like a pineapple, but no, it shouldn't be yellow

But more than that, I realised that regardless of how much I liked its scent, I couldn't have a pink candle in the house. Not simply because I don't have a room where baby pink could possibly coordinate with the existing scheme, but because I don't hold with the idea of a coloured candle in the first place. My rummaging in T K Maxx has thrown up the occasional mud-toned candle, and ones in pale teal and - God forbid - purple. They are just wrong on every level. Okay, wrong on the chromatic level for starters - and often the more vivid the hue, the more trashy the scent, though it doesn't always follow, as in our present case indeed. Yes, the default colour for ALL candles, irrespective of scent, is white. I didn't realise I had such strong views on the point, but seeing this pink candle in Lidl focused my mind wonderfully.

I know Christmas is over, but at least it's white

A Lidl bit of customer care (Suddenly!)

The other Lidl-related matter I wanted to mention is my attempt to return a spare bottle of Suddenly Woman 1. Actually both bottles I bought - having fatally succumbed to a BOGOF deal of two for £7 - are superfluous to requirements, but obviously I can't take back the one I opened. I assumed the other one might be a contender for a refund or credit note or something. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the receipt, but given the uniqueness of the product and the fact that I couldn't very well have bought it anywhere else, I thought I was in with a good chance. Well, as long as they didn't think I had stolen it of course.

Intercepting a sales assistant in free circulation in Lidl is a bit like spotting a hoopoe - they do exist, but a fair bit of 'active loitering' is required to hunt one down in their retail habitat. After ten minutes of cruising the aisles, I collared a chap filling the ready meal freezer and explained my predicament. 'Oh, not having the receipt won't be a problem' he reassured me with a smile and outstretched arm, 'take the box and go and see my colleague on Till 2.' So I hotfooted it over to where I was directed, but the check out assistant said tersely: 'Oh, he gave you wrong information - he's new here. You can't have a refund without a receipt unless you contact Customer Services first and get a reference number. The number to call's on the back of the in-store magazine - here.'

Source: birdforum.net
So back home I went and rang Customer Services, who firmly told me that I had been given duff gen in store by both SA No 1 and No 2, and that I wasn't entitled to a refund at all, because I had crucially lost the receipt. They said I could write in and dispute the policy if I wished. So I spent an hour crafting a perfect complaint letter, explaining that I understood that because of their low prices, Lidl may not be able to offer as generous / flexible a returns policy as other retailers. Then I based my main argument around the fact that I had been given conflicting - and progressively more discouraging - information by three separate Lidl staff, and that this was tantamount to 'messing with my mind'.

So I had the letter all ready to go on the hall table the next morning, when I received a phone call from the same Customer Services lady, announcing brightly that she was mistaken and that she could give me a reference number and I could get my money back after all.

So, a clear case of the left hand not knowing what the right hands are doing - all two of them! - or even what the left hand itself is doing, come to that - but a result for me, and I am now all of £3.99 richer, not just the £3.50 that I actually paid, though I came clean about that.

So when it comes to scented candles, where do you stand in the 'the only colour is white' debate?

And do you have any heartwarming - as in 'change of heart'-type - stories about returning unwanted perfume - or do your (involuntary) albatross sanctuaries simply keep growing?

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Halcyon hyacinths, and New Year musings on not being amusing

My cousin's husband (long dead now) used to be the cartoonist for a magazine beloved of the country set, 'Horse & Hound'. I remember how, just before a heart bypass operation, John worked overtime, stockpiling cartoons for when he came out of hospital. 'You see', he explained: 'even if everything goes okay, I don't suppose I shall be feeling madly funny for a while.' By inference, he didn't feel he could submit a cartoon to the magazine if it wasn't amusing, which got me thinking about my own 'house style' on Bonkers. And yes, it struck me that while you, as the reader, may visit the blog for all sorts of reasons, I mostly write with the aim at least of entertaining. And I have been slow getting round to this post, as I haven't felt 'madly funny' myself this week, far from it. But unlike my cousin, I have no posts put by for just such an occasion / frame of mind. T S Eliot famously described April as 'the cruellest month', but January 2015 hasn't been overly kind to put it mildly, and I have felt correspondingly downcast. There's something about living alone that makes bad things happening in the world impinge more, and (to stay with our cartoon theme) I found the Charlie Hebdo business last week very distressing, to the point where I barely slept for two nights in the immediate aftermath. The shock of the Paris attacks was compounded by the sad loss on Friday of one of our perfume community, Tama Blough. Although on the cards, her eventual passing came sooner than expected, just two months into her prognosis of six. One small piece of good news is that Buster, Tama's cat, has already found - and moved to - a new 'forever home' nearby. I was nearly considered as a potential owner myself, but only because one of Tama's friends mistakenly thought I was in Connecticut. ;)

I know my own problems - difficulties sleeping, an ongoing lack of work, an expensive repair on the car - pale into insignificance compared with recent events, but the combination of weariness, worry and gloomy news has made me greet the New Year with less of that 'shiny new diary' gung-ho spirit to which I am usually as prone as the next man. But I thought I would have a go at a bit of a 2014 review or New Year stock take, call it what you will. It may be odd, mind, and not especially perfume-forward, I warn you...;)

New launches and hiding under a rock

To jump start my look back at the past year in perfume terms - and spurred on by Undina's traditional analysis of how many scents she tested in 2014, by which brands, and how many of them were new releases etc - I fetched out my perfume diary and started flicking through. Here I had faithfully documented what I wore each day. It was clear that I was sometimes testing several things, or partly wearing familiar scents and partly testing new ones. I soon got bogged down, however, on realising that I didn't know if I was in fact testing or wearing a given scent, ie I simply couldn't remember what I already knew. Nor could I distinguish the perfumes released last year from ones from previous years, though all that could have been ascertained with a bit of digging around, had I really cared.

Evidently also a drinking diary

As I continued to flick through, it was clear that not many of the perfumes tested had made much of an impression on me, which is consistent with Undina's own low success rate in such sessions. And significantly, most of any testing I have done was invariably prompted by samples sent to me spontaneously by companies or received as extras in swaps, rather than burning lemmings I have tracked down, though there were a few of those too. The thing is - and I am a little ashamed to say it - nowadays I can quite happily go to an event at Les Senteurs or wherever and hardly sniff anything. I will also walk right through Duty Frees at airports, barely taking in what is new, despite prominent displays specifically designed to intercept the captive traveller with time on their hands. These days I am so lazy and 'not bovvered' in fact, that I can't even manage to put the proper accents in some of the perfumes listed below.

Scented discoveries (from 2014 or otherwise)

One key exception to this tuning out to new - or newish - launches is Tauer's PHI Une Rose de Kandahar from 2013, of which Val of APJ gave me a precious vial in February, and which turned out to be a lemming of the highest order. If I had to pick my top perfume discovery of last year, that would be it, albeit I tried so little in the grand scheme of things that it is not as great an accolade as it might be coming from bloggers who have explored many more new offerings on the market. Penhaligon's Tralala would be the worthy runner up.

My one *new* bottle purchase of the year (Lidl excepted)

In terms of other new perfume loves that are not necessarily year-specific, Estee Lauder's Bronze Goddess and Hermes Eau des Merveilles are two key ones to cite, along with Guerlain Attrape-Coeur and Shalimar Extrait, Ann Gerard Perle de Mousse, Vero Profumo Mito Voile d'Extrait and Extrait, Farmacia SS Annunziata Vaniglia del Madagascar, Chanel Coromandel, Annick Goutal Songes and Black Flower Mexican Vanilla from the Dame Perfumery in Scottsdale. (Thanks to Undina, Lila das Gupta, Tara of OT, Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery and Blacknall Allen of aperfumeblog for the above!). I also had an unexpected rapprochement with Chanel No 5, on discovering that Lidl's latest dupe of a mainstream scent had fallen far of the mark. And there are doubtless a few others that will occur to me presently.

It's more about the people than ever before 

Yup, 2014 has resoundingly shown me that I am more interested than ever in talking to people at fragrance events and meet ups, rather than taking this unparalleled opportunity to test the many perfumes all around us. For I have formed deep and rewarding friendships with a number of perfumistas, some of which have escalated to the next level: visiting them in their homes, and even staying the night in a couple of instances - hospitality I would be glad to reciprocate. ;)

Russian doll-reflected perfumistas

I am belatedly bonkers about skincare

Readers may well have noticed a number of 'beauty posts' creeping into the blog lately, and though I feel my recent waves of frenetic research have run their course for now - not least because I can't afford to buy anything else! - I think that to be purely practical about it, good skincare products are more necessary for me at this time of my life than the next lovely perfume. After all, I already have umpty dozen scents to choose from, and something that smells good is an embellishment at the end of the day - albeit a mood-enhancing and transformative one. Skincare, meanwhile, can address actual physical problems like my pesky chronic acne and the damage from decades of kamikaze sunbathing, as well as setting you on course to arrest or at least slightly mitigate the ageing process. I'm 55 after all - it's not too late exactly to take corrective action, but oh, how I wish I had started a sensible regime thirty years ago...

My redeployed cutlery drainer

Slowing down and easing up

I have talked about the principle of 'slow blogging' in previous 'stock taking' posts, and am still convinced of its merits. Additionally, a change I would like to make this year is to slow down in terms of my electronic life generally: 'engaging' with fewer blogs perhaps, and focusing on the ones with whom I have a personal connection, checking emails less frequently throughout the day and taking longer to reply to them, to avoid what I shall elaborately - and possibly impenetrably - call 'Groundhog Day ping pong syndrome'. Then I hope to spend less time on Facebook, where I am mercilessly teased for one thing, and which is the most terrible vortex at the best of times, even though I do like interacting with people that way. But it's a time-sucking curate's egg all right, not to mince metaphors about it. I am also trying to wind down before bedtime, which means resisting the urge to go online in the last hour or so of the evening, as the blue light emitted by electronic devices, coupled with the general mental stimulation entailed, is almost certainly a key factor in my inability to get to - and stay - asleep. That and my middle-aged bladder, of course.

Look, no phone!

To this end I am also trying mindfulness, or rather a somewhat simplifed version known as 'McMindfulness'. When practised last thing at night, it morphs into the equally snappily named 'beditation'. Interestingly, a psychologist writing for The Guardian urges people to have ONLY these three New Year's resolutions and to ditch the rest:

1) Take up meditation
2) Stop doing something (ie the opposite of the usual injunction to take up a new sport, hobby etc, but rather to find something in your life - whether a person or activity or goal or state of mind which is unhelpful / too hard / consuming of time and emotional energy etc - and drop it.
3) Go easy on yourself in reference to 1) and 2), or more widely!

Therapeutic Tara

'Consider the hyacinths...'

Right, so that is not exactly how the Biblical quotation goes, but I am sure the sentiment transfers across species. For I must say that in all my low level agitation so far this month, I have found a lot of solace and a calming quality in a potted hyacinth a friend gave me for Christmas. It is going over now, with brown bits starting to colonise its white tendrils, but every time I walk into the kitchen I sniff it, and the flower's sweet narcotic scent seems so restful and somehow so sufficient unto itself, just like the non-spinning lilies of the New Testament. Which is not to say that I am poised to abandon manmade perfumes any time soon - not at all - but it was a nice object lesson in the simple pleasures of life, including scented ones. Which, if the work situation doesn't improve, may take on a greater importance by and by.

Anyway, as warned, that was an odd 'round up' post, but I hope to be back next time with something a touch more lighthearted - and squarely perfume-related. Oh okay, that might be pushing it...;)

Has your New Year got off to a more upbeat start, or have you felt a bit weighed down with the cares of the world, or your own?

Liz Moores - a pint-sized tonic who punches above her height!

Tuesday 6 January 2015

New Year, Old Me!: beating the Delta Blues, plus pea-sized ponderings

A petit pois, would you believe! ~ Source: fr.academic.ru
Well, it's Twelfth Night, and the decorations are finally down. The Christmas tree didn't go easily, I might add. For I managed to smear the sofa again(!) in unidentified black organic matter as I staggered round the room with it, for all the world as though I were attempting some over-ambitious caber tossing stunt - minus the actual tossing. Except in the sense of throwing the tree out, I mean. Then as late as last night there was one final and spectacular festive malfunction, when I spilt a quarter pint of warm chicken dripping over the kitchen worktop, from where it promptly poured down the fridge door and onto the floor. That took some (neat Fairy Liquid-infused) mopping, I can tell you.

But this post is about skin - my skin, not the chicken's, though it was involved in the whole messy fiasco in a minor way. Yes, I wanted to recount more of my adventures as I explore the world of skincare - or indeed report on my dermatological adventures generally - for I appear to be at an age where my face is increasingly doing whatever the heck it likes in new and alarming ways, even as I make halting attempts to corral and tame it...

For example, I woke up on Sunday morning and instantly felt sick. Okay, I did finish off some rhubarb crumble at gone midnight while watching Breaking Bad, but it really wasn't that - it was more from shock than anything. For in the bathroom mirror I caught sight of the worst sleep creases ever - so much so that in my panic I was afraid they weren't sleep creases at all, but something rather more sinister and permanent. A deep latticework of grooves - nay, trenches - was etched all down one side of my face, from the edge of my eye to the jawline - I looked like the Nile Delta after a particularly bad drought. Okay, so the photo below is of the Colorado River Delta, but you get the idea.

Source: news. azpm.org

Now I have been experimenting with lots of different skincare products lately, so I wondered if the precise combo I wore to bed last night (an Olay Regenerist serum topped off with a Lidl Osiris anti-wrinkle cream) might have triggered an allergic response. But then logic kicked in and said that in that case the other side of my face would have been affected too.  Anyway, I googled the problem and tried the recommended techniques for making the lines go away - slapping my face to bring the circulation back, cold water, moisturiser, massage - even jumping up and down waving my arms in the air, haha. About an hour later, my face was back to normal, but it gave me a very bad turn. As I was making the bed later I noticed that the pillowcase looked suspiciously rumpled, so for once I must simply have slept soundly in one spot! As it happens, a fumie friend in Canada gave me a beautiful silk pillowcase for Christmas, designed to preclude these very instances of bedding-related facial engraving, but of course it would be on a pillow in the other room at the time.

My theory of an allergic reaction was not so daft though, as I am constantly switching between products, bringing new ones onstream, and trying them out in different permutations, even on different parts of my face. As I have mentioned in past posts about this quest to find my perfect skincare regime, it is a matter of constant trial and error to find what works for your own multi-faceted skin type (I am OSPW in Leslie Baumann's classification ie 'oily, sensitive, pigmented and wrinkled'). And you are of course supposed to persevere for about 4 weeks minimum with each thing you try before judging whether it has had a good effect or not - ideally longer. But at my age I haven't got enough time to give everything on the market that might be suitable for me a 4 week trial - in this or that combination to boot - for we are urged to layer different products on our skin for maximum effect, even if we stop short of the full 10-17 step Korean beauty regime. I might not emerge from this current testing phase till I am 70, by which time it really would be too late. 

And also, when you are using several products with anti-ageing and/or other nutrients in them, it is hard to disentangle where precisely the good benefit of any of them is coming from. Or even whether it is down to that present combination OR the cumulative effects of other past product trials finally bearing fruit. You know, like when you can't get the cork out of a bottle of cava, and then it comes out first time for the friend you pass it to in desperation, but only because you did all the leg work first. Well, you and the grippy tea towel you will also undoubtedly have used. So there is that conundrum - how do you really know something is working? Frankly, I am better at just telling you something feels nice and doesn't irritate my skin. I think if anything the bony bit at the top of my cheeks, just under the orbital eye area, is looking more cross-hatched lately. Maybe it is fed up having this kaleidoscope of new stuff slathered on it, and is protesting accordingly. And sometimes the combination of things I try does sting rather, and I lie in bed wondering to myself: 'Now is that good stinging or bad stinging?'

Which brings me to my other point....about portion control. I have always found it difficult to estimate how much of any given product to put on my face. I suppose with a classic moisturiser it doesn't matter - not so much as to look greasy, say - but with serums, which are super concentrated with an array of active ingredients, if you've chosen them well, a little goes a long way. I was dimly aware that a 'pea-sized' blob is the standard amount to apply, but this doesn't seem to go very far, and I don't think my head is unduly big. I could use a pea-sized amount on my eyes alone, indeed with the Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair eye serum I have, that is in fact the deal. So how can a pea-sized blob be sufficient for a much bigger area?

Source: tips.stayhealth.xyz

I consulted Tara of Olfactoria's Travels, who is shaping up to be a bit of a personal skincare guru to me at the moment - a role that gained further momentum when she acquired Sali Hughes' new book, Pretty Honest, for Christmas - and she told me to blend the blob in my palms and smooth the serum on that way. I had dimly heard of doing that too, but the one and only time I tried it the cream stayed mainly on my hands. So Tara suggested spreading the blob evenly across a few fingertips on each hand, and I must say that is working better. I still skimp on a few areas but I am not overusing it at least. I sense that potent things like serums could do you a mischief in excess, and historically I may well be guilty of that. And maybe I do have a big head after all. No, don't answer that. ;) Or....hold on... I could be using the wrong gauge of pea. After all, there are garden peas and petits pois for starters (see above).

But gradually, gradually, I am drawing up a list of products which I have rigorously qualified as all right for my skin in comfort terms, and most likely on balance to be beneficial. More than that I cannot say. Though whether I will stick with them long enough to find out is anyone's guess! I am with skincare a bit as I was at the start of my perfume hobby - there are so many formulations out there and I am fired up to try as many as possible - which of course from a financial point of view is a non-starter, as you can't 'buy samples' from an equivalent to Surrender to Chance, nor is there a swap scene on the same scale - for hygiene reasons, I imagine.

My latest discoveries (suitable for my oily to combination mature problem skin!)

Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum 

Can be used day or night, is very silky and easily absorbed. Highly recommended by Paula Begoun in Beautypedia. Mainly based on peptides as far as I can gather.

Clinique Superdefense SPF20

This I have yet to get my hands on, but it is a daytime eye cream with a good level of sunscreen yet gentle enough for use on the eye area - always a tricky combo. Again, it gets the highest rating on Beautypedia. I would of course rather they spelt Superdefence with a 'c' over here, but I will overlook that.

Paula's Choice Resist Anti-Aging Clear Skin Hydrator

This I have on order and it is going to serve as a night cream - and a daytime moisturiser if I remember to add sunscreen - it seems that it could also safely go round my eyes. Here is the Beautypedia review, albeit you would expect it to be glowing!

Source: Paula's Choice

Then I am still using Resist Skin Transforming Multi-Correction Treatment, which is classed by Paula's Choice as a 'special product', and which goes on before the serum and/or moisturiser. I use that on my chin in particular, topped off by Effaclar Duo +, the Rolls-Royce of spot zapping gels. Now that I can say from experience, having used it for over a year now at a guess.

The other thing I have learnt from my reading is that oily skins may be able to get away with serum + sunscreen rather than moisturiser ie, I am vindicated in thinking that I find it unpleasant to layer as many products as someone with dry skin - the last application of moisturiser just sits there on my face like slush on a kerb.

Oh, and meanwhile, Tara is going to investigate another 'product of interest' from the Paula's Choice line and one by Indeed Labs, so it will be interesting to get her feedback on those, even if we have different skin types. I am also curious to try the La Roche-Posay Redermic R Tara is very struck on, when I feel ready to jump back into the retinol fray. The ROC equivalent - supposedly for sensitive skins - was one of the creams that stung on me, though as I say my portion control may well have been off. And they do say no pain no gain..?