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?


Samantha said...

Hello Vanessa, and what a lovely blog post. There is something wonderful about the immediacy of live music in a cosy inn on a cold night.

I am not bad at scent spotting, although it has made me cynical. I am sure there are only around three fragrances in constant circulation sometimes and they are: Coco Mademoiselle, Angel and Marc Jacobs Daisy. My best scent spot was Miss Dior, which has been chopped and changed so much I don't think even its own mother would recognise it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Sam,

And Happy Birthday to you! I laughed at the notion of Miss Dior's mother not recognising it, and that was a really good spot on your part all right. I nearly mentioned that I would probably be able to spot Coco Mlle as well, and of course Angel. I thought Daisy might have been pushing up daisies by now, but evidently not round your way. Makes the job easier if there are fewer suspects.

crikey said...

What a lovely sounding evening!

I am the *worst* at identifying perfume when other people are wearing it. I don't think it's just because so many just blur together. I think it's in my big bag of failure of identification skills--the bag that also contains many examples of "i know this song, but, bugger, can't place it" and "oooh, that actor, he was, you know, that film!"

p.s. my grandmother also saw the Titanic launched. Her father was some kind of official in the Belfast customs office at the time.

Tara said...

Oh you made me laugh about the woman making sure you didn't think she was a young looking 113! Also enjoyed the Ex Mr Bonkers excerpt.

I know hardly any of the popular mainstream scents most people wear. They mainly blur into one for me. I did spot Portia was wearing Cuir d'Ange when I got in the care at Venice airport but I do own that one.

Vanessa said...

Hi crikey,

What a marvellous coincidence about your grandmother and my babysitter! How old would she have been? Also a child? My grandmother would have been in her 20s, though she didn't ever live in Ireland.

It is reassuring to hear that you are also not particularly adept at identifying perfumes other people are wearing. I do also have those other failures in my bag, hehe, though I am expert at remembering birthdays once someone tells me it.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Glad you enjoyed it, and good spot of Cuir d'Ange on Portia! I would like to think I'd clock that, but if it was in its radiant / diffuse soft leathery phase I guess I might well mistake it for other things.

crikey said...

Your babysitter sounds like a terrific sort--I love the idea of the century-celebration in a helicopter!

I really should know when my grandmother was born. I know she was only a little girl at the time--her father, who was a tall man*, held her on his shoulders so she could get a good view. It was a very vivid memory for her. Um. She was 96 when she died in, born in 1906 sounds about right.

I have to do the maths for my own birthday--I frequently forget how old I am (usually in the wrong direction.)

*in my family, tall is relative.

Asali said...

Like Tara, I can't spot the mainstream perfumes at all, and with other ones... It depends, normally it's just a 'I know this one', unless it's something I know well.
You nanny sounds like she was a wonderful woman.

Asali said...

ps funny about the helicopter, I just remembered that my great grandmother (about the same year as your nanny) also went on a helicopter trip I think when she was perhaps 90 or so. She didn't make the hundred though, 97 I believe.

Undina said...

I've heard that camera adds ten pounds; now I can see that Internet adds ten years ;-P

I used to be extremely good at recognizing perfumes. But it was back in times when new releases were really few and far between. Usually I knew and remembered most of the current mainstream offerings and could recognize them "in the wild." After I dived into the rabbit hole and started testing dozens of perfumes per month my I lost my powers. I still can tell Angel from 10 feet away but that's probably it (even though a couple of strangers were really impressed by my recognition of this perfume - as if it requires any special abilities! ;) ). I feel extremely proud of myself when I can recognize, the remaining of which perfume I smell on my clothes without actually remembering what it was.

Vanessa said...

Yes, she was great - looked after my brother and me from when we were babies, on and off. When I last visited her she opened a drawer and pulled out a drawing my brother had done aged about 3. He is 62 now, so she'd had it a while. And it sounds like my babysitter and your granny were of an age - perhaps they were both sitting on their dad's shoulders!

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

Yes, I also do a lot of the 'I know this one' frustrated near recognition. ;)

I think my mainstream and niche spotting powers are probably on the same very poor footing!

Vanessa said...

I say, what a coincidence! What is it with elderly ladies and a yen for (relatively) unsafe modes of air transport?

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Your opening comment sounds like a very good joke but I am afraid I am being a bit slow - I will have to ask you to explain the Internet part!

I can well imagine that the proliferation of new releases could addle your nose and brain, and good for you for recognising as many as you did back when there were fewer doing the rounds. I do love that expression 'in the wild' - who invented that, now?

Angel is an easy one, I agree. But all too often - as I was saying to Asali - I can recognise a smell as familiar but not be able to dredge up the name.

Undina said...

"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." If she were to be born in 1912, it would have made her 103 years old, not 113.
Sorry, you know my relationship with numbers :)

As to the phrase "in the wild", I'm afraid to mislead you (after the recent debacle with albatrosses ;) ), but I think that for the first time I heard it from Dee (BOTO blog)... Ha! I actually found that post! And now I'm positive I read it there for the first time.

Vanessa said...

Doh!! I did wonder if it was to do with my maths about the lady's age, but persisted in my false calculation. ;)

And thanks for the explanation of the origin of 'in the wild' - I remember the blog, but not the phrase. Well done for digging up the very post!