Sunday 28 February 2016

Mimosa pour toi: Etro Rajasthan, and another tale of perfumed pedal power

Photo courtesy of Clare Chick
Back in 2008, I stood at the L'Artisan Parfumeur counter in a branch of Le Bon Marche in Paris for a good fifteen minutes, poised to make my very first purchase of a niche perfume. I was agonising between L'Ete en Douce, whose (as it turned out) fleeting linden note was reeling me in, and Mimosa pour Moi, a cheery puff of lemon sherbety-ness, which reminded me of my year living on the Riviera: of Mardi Gras parades at just this time of year, of an eclectic chickpea pancake called Soca, and of clouds of pale yellow blossom of mimosa trees in full cry. Reader, I plumped for L'Ete en Douce, and lived to regret its long tail of laundry musk at my leisure. In the end, it was only fit for stealth perfuming ex-Mr Bonkers in his sleep, and I eventually managed to lose it in a swap.

So the mimosa scent that got away has haunted me ever since, and I will always investigate any new mimosa-forward perfume whose path I cross.

Enter my friend Clare (again). Clare has made a number of appearances on the blog, while her 'calendar girl' spaniel Meg was the subject of my first guest post in Cafleurebon in 2010. Over on Bonkers there was her sodden 100 mile cycle ride for rhinos, when she wore Sarah McCartney's 'Eau de Wiggo' to spur her on, a couple of posts on sessions of Cake Club, one on her perfume j***ney, and a 'through the keyhole' look at her current scent wardrobe. And a few more posts besides, but that's quite enough hyperlinks for one paragraph.

Source: Etro

Then just the other week, Clare undertook another marathon cycle ride in India. I say 'another', because she went on a similar 'holiday' (my inverted commas) to Kerala last February, to mark the occasion of her 50th birthday. Having bonded so comprehensively with the two couples up with whom(!) she had been teamed, they invited her to come back this year and do another ride with them, this time in Rajasthan, a northerly province bordering Pakistan.

On hearing the name Rajasthan, I immediately went rummaging in my collection for a sample of the Etro perfume of that name, which Undina had given me some time previously. Here is her own take on the scent, and how she finally came to own a bottle. ;)  (NB I deliberately didn't read any reviews until I had written this post.) I remembered liking Rajasthan very well on first trying it - and was also hugely drawn to images of the sumptuous Paisley-patterned bottle - but I had sort of forgotten about it meanwhile, if I am perfectly honest. My vague recall was of something soft, and comforting, yet bright and slightly spicy, maybe citrusy - and that was about it.

So I gave Clare the remains of my sample, and on 12.2 off she went...

Lake Pichola ~ Photo courtesy of Clare Chick

Clare's Facebook updates were very sparse over the course of that week, but early in their itinerary she posted a photo of Lake Pichola. Lake Pichola?! Why, I could have given her a sample of Neela Vermeire's Pichola as well had I known. There followed a hiatus of about five days, so I was delighted to see her pop up again:

"It's my birthday and I have wifi! This is us at the end of our journey, which finished with a hard, seven-hour ride today.
400 miles.
9 dead dogs
2 dead men
0 hot water
I am SHATTERED and a bit discombobulated."

To which I replied: "But not too discombobulated to spell discombobulated, which I take as a good sign."

Photo courtesy of Clare Chick

The homeward journey was extremely fraught, however, owing to public unrest, which caused severe travel disruption:

"Have just arrived at Delhi airport, 15 hours after setting off. Apparently the riots have spread and some protesters have been killed. Transport, as a result, is chaotic. The roads to the airport are lined with soldiers.

I don't want to think about the train. Or the bus. I had an enormous gentleman slumped, snoring, right on top of me, all the way from Jodhpur to Delhi. He was too big to shove.

Next year I'm going to Wales."

Silk scarf courtesy of Jennifer Denitto (drummer in this vid)

But what of Etro Rajasthan, you may be wondering? Well, here is Clare's olfactory verdict on Rajasthan the place, and the perfume:

"As I cycled through rural Rajasthan I could smell insect repellent, sun lotion, chamois cream, curry, desperation, and death on the breeze. With an undertone of sewage.

I love the perfume though, Vanessa."

Photo courtesy of Clare Chick

Now, it so happened that Undina and I were planning another exchange of perfume packages around the time of Clare's trip, and I asked her if she could possibly make Clare another sample or small decant of Rajasthan, to remind her of her Indian 'holiday' - and to wear in Barmouth next year.

Undina kindly obliged, and also sent a small sample for me too, as I had given mine away, obviously. So last week, after hardly wearing perfume at all for work-related reasons, as previously documented, I started testing a couple of the samples Undina had sent through. First up was Jo Malone's Mimosa & Cardamom, which I absolutely loved and wore for three days straight. It deserves a post of its own really, but may not get one. And then on Day 4 I turned to Rajasthan, which I also wore for three days.

Who knew that they were both mimosa-centric perfumes? Here are the notes for Rajasthan:

Top notes: pink pepper, lemon primo fiore, polygonum 
Heart notes: cassie, mimosa, rose
Base notes: amber, musk, ciste

Source: Wikimedia Commons

(Hmm, and what's 'polygonum' when it's at home? Sounds like a crack French business school, or maybe one of those oddly shaped reception areas in a futuristic office block. "I'll meet you by the water cooler in the polygonum.")

But for me, the salient aspect in Rajasthan is the mimosa. It's like a silk sari of warm lemon meringue, with a velvet amber hem. Does it capture the essence of Rajasthan, the place? Absolutely not. Will it remind Clare of an amazing trip, with more highlights than dead dogs and dead weight fellow passengers on crowded buses? I do hope so.

And thanks to Undina, between the Jo Malone and the Etro scents, this week has also been about 'mimosa pour moi', finally...

Sunday 21 February 2016

That sinking feeling: my spontaneous scent spotting shame in a Titanic pub

This isn't about the Titanic. I have written a couple of posts on the subject in the past, as it happens - well, one was about a sniffathon in my home town of Belfast, where the ill-fated ship was built - there were monuments to the vessel dotted around the town centre, and a museum I have yet to visit, four years on. The other post featured a perfume called Night Star, which was based on a scent by a German perfumer that went to the bottom of the ocean (the 'Rosa Maris'), but was later recovered and subsequently reformulated / adapted for modern tastes by a company called Scents of Time. Happily, the perfumer himself - Adolphe Saalfeld - survived. ;)

Night Star was one of the few perfumes ex-Mr Bonkers was ever keen to try, as I go on to explain in my Scents of Time review:

'The reason his curiosity was piqued by this perfume is because Titanic is "the best film ever made”, even though it doesn’t feature Nicolas Cage, “the best actor ever made”, and - unlike his usual fodder of corpse-strewn zombie films - only has “minimal violence”. (That's if you exclude the not inconsiderable impact of ship against iceberg.) Mr Bonkers has another personal interest in all things Titanic-related, for rumour has it that his family is directly descended from Captain Smith, who, like Mr B, was born in Stoke-on-Trent. You may say that that is not the most auspicious of family connections to broadcast, but still."

NB I have a feeling that this proved to be an apocryphal story in the end, and will update my post if I can verify the facts of the matter either way!


So no, this is another tale of my hopeless nose, which happens to be set in a pub belonging to the Titanic brewery estate, The Greyhound in Hartshill. The Greyhound is a veritable shrine to White Star (the shipping line) trappings and memorabilia, and host to a range of Titanic-themed beers, such as Slipway, Anchor, and Steerage.

I had gone along to attend a gig of a band my friend Gillie is in, called The Idioms (vid of one of the songs they played below). The pub was packed with regulars and friends of the band, so there was no shortage of familiar faces and people to chat to. At one point I was sitting near a lady who let slip that her birthday was 15th April, the day the ship sank. 'Not 1912, obviously,' she added, in case I might have thought she was just a young-looking 113. That said, my old babysitter in Belfast was born in 1905, and as a little girl was taken to watch the Titanic being launched. She has died now, sadly, but only a few years ago. Why, she went up in a helicopter (by choice!) to mark her hundredth birthday, even though she had lost her sight by then.

At the end of the night I got chatting to a friend of Gillie's, whom I will thinly disguise as Lauren, and her friend, whom I shall even more thinly disguise as Odile. They were up from Hertfordshire, staying with a chap (I shall call Gareth) whose compact but bijou collection of scents has cropped up before on Bonkers. It was he who blew me away the Christmas before last by wearing a woody oriental scent that turned out to be Lynx Excite! He also rejoices in the surname of Spray, which is just too good to disguise, but I don't think he'll mind.

And inevitably I was asked to sniff the trio's SOTEs and guess what they were wearing - at which party trick I am famously terrible. I have occasionally idenitified the likes of Paris or Coco Chanel on people, but as a general rule I am complete rubbish at this game, and so it proved last night.

The Idioms band

ODILE: Cacherel Noa

I had no idea what Odile was wearing, though I have once smelt this, I believe. Yet I was getting something almost green and citrus-y, which was not at all my memory of how Noa smells, fuzzy and historic though that may be. And then I turned to Google, and found this review on Boisdejasmin, which explains that the perfume has both a powdery and a sparkling facet all the way through. Noa certainly wore very bright and vegetal on Odile.

"How many scents can you think of that are simultaneously powdery and transparent? I think of very few, and I recommend smelling Noa just to see what I mean. It starts out with a fizzy, champagne like note that reminds me of crushed coriander leaves and the bitter white part of orange peel and smells astringent, metallic and sharp. And then it’s as if someone opened a box of face powder and filled the air with the glittering dust."

Source: Cacharel

GARETH: Joop! pour homme

And well may it exclaim!, because this strong, sweet, powdery, woodsy and patchouli number had me totally floored. I blurted out 'Body Shop?' but I had no idea what I was thinking of, though in hindsight I may have been rummaging for the provenance of the one that was actually Lynx. It was rather moreish on Gareth, it must be said.

Not sure about that pink...Source:

LAUREN: Nothing!

I do feel an exclamation mark is also called for here. Lauren proved to be the unexpected control, wearing nothing but 'Eau de Lauren', as she dubbed it. And I didn't even bother guessing this time after my failure with the other two, not that there was anything much to go on except maybe a vague vestige of shampoo. Because this was the interesting thing - both Odile and Lauren proffered their hair for me to sniff - seemingly that is where Odile spritzes her perfume, and maybe Lauren too, when she does apply some. (Dior Dolce Vita and D & G Light Blue are her two favourites for the record.)

As for myself, I was sporting the far drydown of 'Eau de Decant'. Layers of several Roja Doves, Magie Noire and Salome were all present in the pungent palimpsest - or it was certainly pretty pungent earlier in the day!

So it would seem that my powers of spontaneous scent recognition may be as doomed as the Titanic. And much like the ratio of iceberg above and below the surface, for every Paris or Coco Chanel I am able to recognise, there are twenty more I can't. I am not sure I'd even recognise Night Star now if I met it in the street - or 400 miles off Newfoundland, even.

How about you? Does your nose fare better? If so, what is the spontaneous scent recognition coup of which you are most proud?

Sunday 14 February 2016

My fizzy Valentine...Schhh, you know who!

It is a mark of how preoccupied I have been lately that Valentine's Day is upon us and I nearly forgot to mark the date with a post. I have written one in past years, though by no means with anything approaching regularity. Okay, precisely twice in six and a half years, plus a snippet towards a big collaborative effort on Cafleurebon. Of the two posts on here, only the one from 2013 gets as far as suggesting perfumes suited to the occasion, and to this day remains the closest approximation to a classic Valentine's feature, though in fairness it's still pretty random.

And because I am sure someone else has addressed the theme of 'dark seductive rose scents', or whatever else a person might think to wear to a romantic candlelit dinner - should you be fortunate enough to have a partner who will not flinch at the shameless price hikes that obtain at this time of year - I will confine myself to telling you about my own Valentine's Day so far. It may be more typical than I imagine - you can be the judges of that!

Sunday started later than usual, at 6.57am, when Truffle began her highly honed and completely non-negotiable 'walking on my face' trick, which she will sustain without let up for a good fifteen minutes. I usually crack within three, however, and stumble downstairs in the semi-gloom to feed her. In the past few days, the head walking stunt has been timed at 5.47, 5.53 and 3.48, so at least there's no risk of the pair of us getting in a rut with our morning callisthenics routine - or cat-isthenics, routine, even.

'It's this or your head.'

In the past, I could always count on receiving a Valentine's card from Charlie Bonkers, with an actual paw mark on it and everything. She used to sell some of her kibble to raise funds to buy it, peel off the cellophane wrapper and price label - the full nine yards. By contrast, there has been nothing at all from Truffle today - no box of eponymous chocolates, no card, zilch. I tell myself she is still only five months old, and has no means of getting out to go to the shops, even if she could write.

Truffle can already flick water like a good 'un, mind - that was her technique this morning for making me get out of the bath, so she could climb in after me and swing the plug around on its chain, bat the Greek sponge around like a football etc. Yes, she splashed water about half a dozen times quite deliberately over my iPhone. She knows about this tech stuff, I tell you, like all the young ones seem to do. I bet she'd gone and hidden the bag of rice too, that trusty cupboard staple pressed into service in such calamities.

Later this morning, Truffle was very naughty with some hanks from the wool basket, getting a high end ball of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino yarn into a right old robble. If it had been bright red, there might have been extenuating circumstances given the nature of the day, but it was egg yolk yellow and definitely off limits.

But even though the kitten didn't quite come up trumps, the day has been enjoyable. I visited the friend who keeps perfume in the fridge on his barge - the one I introduced to BEX Londoner SE1. In a strictly non-Valentine's related show of hospitality, he served up rhubarb crumble, which we ate off a repurposed toilet seat before watching a pair of swans outside the window not quite making partial heart shapes with their necks.

Next up I went to Asda, where, rather than buy myself an expensive bunch of roses on the cusp of wilting, or a pack of strawberries with dipping chocolate - or even an Easter egg for that matter, as there are absolutely tons of those in store already! - I stocked up with 36 cans of tonic water with a best before of May 2016. Half price at just £2 a box! Can I drink 36 gins in about 12 weeks - leaving a bit of a buffer for premature flatness, or 'deffervescence', if that's a word? At a rate of only three a week, I'd say no bother at all...;)

And now, in the spirit of 'sisters spraying it for themselves', I really should consider putting on some perfume for what's left of the day. In view of my 'tonic coup' just now, maybe I'll skip the rose scents this year, and go straight for Juniper Sling.

Oh, and here is the iconic ad in question...

Saturday 13 February 2016

'What not to wear': thoughts on stress and perfume

Vintage (too big?) Principles suit!
In three weeks' time I will have been freelance for 25 years. It's a lifestyle characterised by long periods of inactivity, often spent 'constructively waiting' for promised projects to kick off, followed by frenetic bursts of busyness. If someone had told me back in 1991 that I would have to find enough work to last me 25 years, I would have been so daunted by the prospect I might never have taken the plunge! Yes, it has only been possible to keep going this long by not thinking about the future too much, and living - or latterly more like lurching - from year to year. I suspect that the rise of SurveyMonkey has a lot to answer for in terms of queering my professional pitch, as my particular school of 'qualitative' interviewing - with its open-ended and unstructured lines of questioning - is increasingly seen as an unwieldy luxury in this short attention span age of channel zapping and Twitter.

That said, I am currently flat out on a research project of the classic kind, setting up appointments with key companies in a variety of industry sectors. It is proving challenging, however, because - just like in the run up to my last US trip in 2010 - I find myself grappling with a monster database and have ended up researching each market from scratch, and generating my own lists of companies and relevant people within them. Which all takes time, so at the end of the first week I have just one appointment in the diary to show for my efforts out of a target of 10! Not great going, but very few people pick up their phones these days, assuming the switchboard will put you through in the first place. And the question you will unfailingly get asked eventually - 'I can give you his email address?' - is the kiss of death to my kind of inquiry, the success of which relies on the combination of a pleasant telephone manner and a soupcon of surprise.

Source: pinterest

And by mid-afternoon on Friday I realised that I had been so consumed by the difficult task in hand that I hadn't applied perfume all week, an omission that is completely without precedent. Even on my Californian project, I remembered to wear some before I went to bed:

"I have been so preoccupied and mithered this week that I have sometimes forgotten to apply perfume till late in the day - or even late in the Americans' day."

There seems to have been a crisis on the food shopping front, mind:

" is getting to the point where food parcels would not go amiss. Mr Bonkers has eaten all the pizzas in the freezer and is just starting on the boxes."

I had food in the house at least, but my fragrance failings troubled me no end. So I promptly dabbed on a bit of the nearest vial that came to hand, astonished that I could have been distracted like this on such a sustained basis.

Truffle, keenly aware that I could do with 'friends in high places'

As it happens, I have touched on the subject of when a person might not feel like wearing perfume in a couple of other posts on Bonkers, notably this one, where I cite the instances of illness, and the death of - or an argument with - a loved one. I also lobbed in a nuclear holocaust for good measure - on a purely hypothetical basis it must be hoped - notwithstanding all the Cold War-style posturing going on in Korea at the moment.

"I think if there was a nuclear holocaust I might also forgo perfume. I might even not get washed."

And I know there is often talk on the blogs of what perfumes you turn to to comfort and soothe in times of stress, but this week proves that sometimes you are in such a hyper state that any perfume risks being jarring and 'too much' - even if I had remembered I'd forgotten to put it on!

Source: pfitblog

Have you ever NOT worn perfume for 4-5 days on the trot because the balance of your mind was disturbed?

I would be interested to hear your scentless experiences!

PS All the best to Nick Gilbert, all-round fragrance guru and good egg, who launched his own freelance venture this week. He is nearly 31, which coincidentally is the age I was when I went solo!

Thursday 4 February 2016

Widget weirdness, a blogspot of bother, and stemming the lost follower lemmings

Source: Etsy
Five years ago this week(!), I had 63 followers. I felt moved to write a post back then about the frisson of pleasure that the little mosaic of avatars gives me whenever a new colourful square pops up, signalling the arrival of a new reader. Someone who is keen to catch every post and not just dip in occasionally. And who hasn't just landed on Bonkers by mistake, as I have long assumed so many visitors do. As I remark in that post:

'You would be amazed how many people find Bonkers about Perfume by looking for avocados.'

In the same post, I also fret about the possible reasons why a single follower recently left:

'Perhaps they were bemused by my post about Californian road surfaces. Or the sheer number of posts about California last month. Even readers based in California would probably agree that the attention accorded to their state was disproportionate.'

So that was then - I lost one follower and it troubled me... Fast forward to January 2016, when I started out with 166 followers, from memory. In the space of a week or so, I lost 23 followers in two huge tranches - 13, and then a further 10. In the whole of 2015 I think I was down one follower, and hadn't particularly worried about that. But 23 in a matter of days is starting to look a lot like lemmings.

Source: Jacquie Boyd via Debutart

And as a woman of a certain age, I am prone to anxiety at the best of times - it is all part and paranoid parcel of the hormonal soup which comes with this mid-life territory. If someone doesn't reply to an email for a longish period of time, I am more likely to assume the person has taken violently against me rather than that they are away, or merely busy. And so my first reaction to this mass exodus of followers was that there were rumours circulating about me somewhere in cyberspace, urging perfumistas to unfollow Bonkers at their earliest convenience. I actually found myself googling various likely permutations of search terms, such as:

'I don't like Vanessa's style of writing / Vanessa / what Vanessa said'

'Stopped reading Bonkers about Perfume'

'Unfollow Vanessa's blog'

'Bonkers about Perfume not about perfume anymore'

Source: YouTube

And more, much more, in that cringeworthy self-critical vein! You see, the fact that I ran two consecutive posts on makeup and skincare around the time this drop off in followers occurred - even though I assured readers that I would be returning to the subject of fragrance imminently - struck me as possibly significant. Maybe people suddenly got fed up with these off-topic posts. Maybe all the followers in question were men, who couldn't give a toss about lipsticks and serum, though I had no way of knowing.

So my working theory at this point was that the skincare posts - in particular my list of vacuous personal discoveries such as tying one's hair back before washing one's face and how to apply eyeshadow(!) - might have been the tipping point that turned people away in droves. And then I suddenly had the idea to google a different line of inquiry, specifically about 'losing followers suddenly on Blogger'.

And to my surprise and relief up popped a recent blog post by a chap called Chuck Croll (the 'nitecruzr' below) on this very subject, which explains what may be going on, namely that Google is eliminating followers who use Open ID accounts as opposed to Blogger / Google accounts.

Here is a helpful extract explaining the problem:

'People Following without Google accounts did not get newsfeed subscriptions.

Followers using OpenID only got their photo icon in the Followers facepile. How would OpenID Followers get a Reading List subscription? Reading List subscriptions require Blogger / Google accounts.

If you look in your Reading List and find this blog listed, you are Following this blog using a Blogger account - since the Reading List subscription is one benefit of Following. If you don't find this blog listed, you may subscribe, using Reading List - or Follow, using "Follow Me". Just use a Blogger / Google account, when you Follow.'


Chuck goes on to say that readers can also follow using Google +, but I don't think I am currently geared up for that, and need to figure out what I have to do in order to be able to post the appropriate gadget in the sidebar.

Now I can't be totally sure that this is the reason for losing such a flurry of followers this month, but given the timing of the post about the phenomenon - and the fact that even my paranoia can be offset with arguments about the 'balance of probability' - I reckon this is what is at work.

So assuming the 23 lost followers (at the time of writing that is - they may not be the last to go!), were booted off Bonkers by Google rather than deserting of their own accord, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to them all - even though they are almost certainly not reading, or only if they are supremely determined! I hope you can figure out an alternative method / widget that works for you if you would like to receive notifications of future posts. There's Bloglovin and Follow by Email of course - I hope those are additional options, and not also dependent on a Google account.

Yep, as I said in my 2011 post, I remain 'a fair weather computer operator' and am not a little nonplussed by this widget weirdness, and readers apparently running for the hills...

And if the mass exit was in fact because of something I said - or the topics featured - I am sorry about that too, though I shall probably never know...!