Sunday, 15 May 2016

A Newport Pagnell near miss, innumerable bees briefly reprised, and my failure to crack the 'Givenchy Code'*

I fully intended to write a post about the pros and pros of skincare products in tubes - actually I did just think of a con - and no, really, I promise it will be more interesting than it sounds. But I was away for the weekend, and having always been more of a closet travel writer at heart than a perfume blogger I feel compelled to tell you about my trip instead. There is a bit of a perfume theme to this tale, which I'd like to think isn't too flagrantly peripheral or shoehorned in, but you must be the judge of that.

So yes, I have been to visit the last surviving friend of my (sadly not surviving) mother, who at 91 is even more elderly than 'my elderly friend', aka ex-Mrs Bonkers Senior. I have featured my mother's friend in a couple of posts already: for example, on my last visit she kindly gave me a cast off bottle of Magie Noire and O de Lancome. P, as I shall henceforth call her, lives on the edge of The Cotswolds in a picture book cottage with her one surviving corgi.

The journey down should have taken an hour and a half and ended up taking three. For I was listening with such rapt attention to Paddy Ashdown's fantastically articulate answers on Question Time that I sailed down the M1 and inadvertently ended up at Newport Pagnell, which is really not something you'd want to do by accident, let alone on purpose. It's not that the Sat Nav didn't try to get me to turn off sooner, but I had already marked its card at Rugby, where it said to turn around and go back up the M1 the way I had come. So when it suggested I come off at every single subsequent junction I assumed it was having another of its funny turns - and that it just wanted to go home, basically. I decided to ignore it and keep my eyes peeled for the turn off to the big town nearest my friend. Then promptly became mesmerised by Paddy Ashdown and forgot to watch out for signs. Not that it would have made a difference if I had, for the signs are on the M40, and I was on the M1. Maybe the Sat Nav had been trying to tell me as much in its own cryptic and inflammatory way. But Newport Pagnell jolted me out of my navigational stupor, and I eventually manage to tack cross country to P's village.

Fortified by tea and lemon cake, we spent a pleasant afternoon sitting in the conservatory, listening - I kid you not - to the murmuring of innumerable bees. 'I know they say there is a world shortage of bees', P remarked, 'but not in my garden there's not!' P needs to take things steady, as she has spent long stints in hospital in the past year, following a series of falls. I thought she had stumbled over her corgi - corgis being notiorously low slung trip hazards as dogs go - but it turns out that that was some years previously. These falls were precipitated by less colourful causes, which I signally failed to record.

But what I did do for the very first time, was ask P to tell me the story of her life. It took four hours, and was absolutely fascinating, full of twists and turns that soon had me scurrying for pen and paper to jot the key points down. I knew she and my mother had been old friends in Northern Ireland, who lost touch after they moved back to England, but found each other again when P's son spotted a letter in The Times sent in by my mother  - not such a strange coincidence as you might think - my mother was forever writing to The Times about this and that, almost to the point of it being a sport, and every now and then one of her letters made it into print.

Here then are a few interesting facts about P:

- Her father was a big cheese in coal - or should that be a 'big lump'?

- P first met my mother through a neighbour whose son fell out of a tree, and who asked to use her phone to call a doctor (in the days when phones were far from universal).

- She lived in a house called The Wooden House, which burnt to the ground. (Accident waiting to happen, I hear you say.)

- The upside down ostrich on the wall belongs to the corgi, but he cannot be trusted not to savage his own toys.

- P's grandson played Simba in a much acclaimed production of The Lion King on Broadway.

- A family member is married to a Havers!

- And best of all....P was a code breaker at Bletchley Park during the war! I tentatively asked her what she did exactly, and obviously she couldn't tell me, as this was  all highly classified Secret Squirrel stuff. Which doubtless explains the wraparound shades she was wearing.

- P always opens a banana from the bottom, so of course I had to have a go.

But, despite having paid such careful attention to the narration of P's life, I completely forgot to inquire about the story behind the perfumes on the dressing table in the spare bedroom where I stayed - which featured in my 'through the keyhole' post about the way other people store/display their fragrance collections. The perfumes in question are Floris Elite and Eau de Givenchy - now that I am home I realise that the latter is in fact a women's scent:

Givenchy Eau de Givenchy edt 

Notes: bergamot, spearmint, tagetes, greens, fruits, honeysuckle, jasmine, lily of the valley, tuberose, rose, cyclamen, orris, musk, cedarwood, sandalwood, and moss.

Floris Elite

Notes: top notes are bergamot, virginia cedar, grapefruit, juniper and petitgrain; middle notes are fir, lavender and bay leaf; base notes are amber, oakmoss, musk, patchouli, vetiver, cedar and leather.

By an odd coincidence both were launched in 1980. The Givenchy perfume is definitely vintage, though I am not sure from what year.

Yup, I can't believe I didn't ask P if I could test either of them, though that does rather give me a mission for next time...

Do you ever find yourself distracted from perfume sniffing opportunities by other absorbing pursuits?

Does it ever get to the point where you question your perfumista credentials? 

(*With apologies to Dan Brown)


  1. what a wonderful story Vanessa. P has certainly had an interesting life, no wonder you were searching for paper and pen. Bletchley Park and code breakers have always fascinated me! I am wondering why she always opens Bananas from the bottom? Did she say why? I shall go to bed wondering.... good to read you as usual. :-)

    1. Hi Pats,

      Didn't she just?

      Re the banana MO, my first thought was that it was to be consistent with the upside down ostrich, but seemingly she finds it easier that way. Less ripping and splaying maybe, though when I had a go a bit of banana squelched out over my fingers - you are physically closer to the fruit down there.

  2. I don't have a sat nav, and feel they might be the work of the devil .... you have made me laugh with this post.

    Eau de Givenchy was launched to celebrate my wedding (well, not really, but it coincided) and it was a lovely, light fragrance to wear in hot weather, like a super cologne scented with honeysuckle. Givenchy last re-issued it in their Mythiques line, and it still smelled good; if you search hard it's possible to track down a bottle.

    By coincidence I worked with a Havers some years ago!


    1. Hi Jillie,

      Nice to hear from you. I have had a sat nav for over ten years now, and they are quite temperamental things and far from infallible!

      I was very interested to learn more about Eau de Givenchy and I shall definitely ask to spray it on my next visit. I wonder how old P's bottle is - it is certainly not that recent, at a guess. I like the sound of the honeysuckle note.

      P's relative is married to the Havers who is the legal beagle...not sure if that is the one you know!

    2. Ha! I wondered if it was the same Havers who was the legal beagle! I was not wrong..... lol. (sorry for commenting on another person's post).

    3. Comment away, Pats! Correctly guessed. Another 'P' indeed.

  3. What a lovely post.
    Last time I went to visit Lila (for her new art group), I totally forgot to ask to see her perfume collection, although I was 20 minutes early (rude, I know) I will have to remedy that next time.

    1. Hi Sabine,

      I loved the story of your art group at Lila's and forgetting to inquire about her perfume collection - that is absolutely an example of this strange new syndrome, hehe.

  4. Who knew Paddy Pantsdown could be so transfixing!

    Your mother's elderly friend did have an intriguing life and clearly has great taste in perfume. I'm always questioning my perfumista credentials because if something doesn't seriously pique interest I'll happily pass it by.

    I love that writing to The Times was practically a hobby of your mum's. What a woman she was.

    The Givenchy Code is inspired!

    1. Hi Tara,

      I can thoroughly recommend catching Question Time on iPlayer - whatever question Paddy was answering, he did so with elegant aplomb.

      I think we are similar then in being able to quite happily tune out to perfumes that don't immediately jump out at us. Maybe if we had gone to Milan we would have done a Yukiko and been really on the case, but speaking for myself I ain't sure!

    2. Hahaha, I get this strong impulse to try when I see something new in front of my eyes; the same thing happens with food and drink too. That's why I ended up with trying loads of craps in my life! If it's not physically there, I'm pretty OK. :D

    3. Hi Yukiko,

      Hehe, I can relate to your attitude towards food and drink - sounds like you would be rubbish at that 'marshmallow test' ;)- and I think I would sniff things in front of me up to a point. If there is too much choice right there, however, I am as likely to tune out to everything. I can walk right through a duty free and out the other end without testing anything, no bother.

  5. I love to read your posts and hear them in your voice Vanessa. Currently at the computer after finishing my Trivia Q&A for the week. It's cool here so I was and am wearing your blue beans.
    Thank you.
    I love it.
    Portia xxx

    1. Hi Portia,

      Aw, thank you, and I am so happy the beanie is a hit. My mother would have been glad to know that a bit of her daughter's knitting wound its way back to her neighbourhood in Sydney.;) xx

  6. That is a wonderful story! Your mother's friend sounds like an intriguing woman on many fronts, with great taste in perfume and an adorable corgi.

    1. Hi Yuki,

      Thanks for dropping by and I am glad you enjoyed hearing about my mum's friend! Thinking about it, even the reference to her as 'P' sounds a bit James Bond. ;)

  7. Bletchley Park, that's amazing. Not enough is said about the women during WWII; I know a woman who used to drive the ambulances after the raids, that's not the same obviously, but it always made me think how important they were and why we don't know more.
    I'm glad to hear that the bees are ok where you are :-) nice corgi, even if it isn't Truffe ;-)

    1. Hi Asali,

      The women did indeed do great war work on many fronts. Driving ambulances would take a lot of gumption, while my mother was an air raid warden from the age of 19 - I can't imagine that? Why, I can't even look at a finger prick of blood and she and your friend must have coped with all sorts of awful things.

      Here is my mum in her uniform...

      That is a nice corgi, as dogs go!

  8. My mum wore Eau de Givenchy in the 80s and it is a beautiful scent. I suspect it is actually what I had in mind when I procured a bottle of vintage Givenchy III on eBay recently - transpired to be a flat, insipid chypre that I suspect just hadn't aged well :-(

    1. Hi Scentimentalist,

      Well, well, thanks for the confirmation, and I am regretting I didn't sniff this bottle, as it may even be from around that era. I have sniffed Givenchy III meanwhile and it is a different animal entirely. A not very biddable chypre as you say.

  9. Your friend's life sounds like it has been a good one, and I hope she enjoys many more years of it. That being said, you've lost all perfumista credentials with me! Ha, jk. :) At least you have something to look forward to now. And btw, I think that's how they eat bananas in Korea, so they can hold onto the stem as a handle! (I could be totally wrong, and I'm a little bit tipsy so that could also be affecting things. But I'm pretty sure that's true...)

    1. Hi Sun Mi,

      I love the thought of your reading this post while tipsy - good for you, haha.

      I am such a fumehead fraud, I openly admit, for not being more curious on the spot.

      Very interesting to hear about the Korean way of eating bananas - that is another benefit of the upside down method I hadn't thought of!

  10. I enjoy your travel stories: I never know where it leads us (well, it seems you yourself do not always know where your travel takes you ;) ).
    I've recently watched The Bletchley Circle so that part of your story resonates with me especially.

    As to your question... If I've ever been distracted from a perfume sniffing opportunity, it must have been a distraction of such magnitude that I didn't even realize/remember such an opportunity presented itself ;)

    1. Hi Undina,

      Oh, you do make me laugh. It is true that life leads me up some strange byways, and I often end up posting something completely different from the plan.

      You are a dedicated sniffer, and I salute you for it!