Friday, 27 April 2018

The Spitalfields Spritzers: sniffing and scoffing with a gaggle - and giggle! - of international perfumistas

It's all about the friendships...
Last weekend saw one of the biggest gatherings of perfume lovers from all over the world, drawn at least in part by this year's Art and Olfaction Awards in London. I wasn't invited to that event, but I gladly took the opportunity of this formidable foregathering of fumeheads to spend some time with a sizeable subset of those who had hit town . Now I wouldn't normally run two 'perfumista meet-up' posts back-to-back, but if I wait another week, there is a real risk that the day's events will become 'yesterday's smelling strip'.

Thus it was that I set my alarm for 6.15am last Saturday. This ungodly hour alone would have been enough to arouse Truffle's suspicions of an impending trip. Her fears were compounded by the sight of multiple little rucksacks being auditioned for the optimum combination of capacity and unobtrusiveness, and several jackets lying around the dining room - none of them objects I would normally interact with at that time of day. But Truffle could also see that her access to the garden remained unblocked, so decided to make a sharp exit to the great outdoors while the going was good.

I set off at 7.30am to walk to the see a different side of a town when you are up and about so preternaturally early: cleaners wiping down office windows, staff opening up cafes, shop assistants walking to work. I also got a good view of the famous 'Pickup cats', who live in Stafford's only remaining electrical store. There are three altogether I believe, though given that they have been resident in the shop ever since I moved to Stafford over 30 years ago, there is every chance that the total number of cats - as well as the individual cats themselves - may have changed in that period!

At the station I hit my first technical hitch...the ticket machines were not working - neither the self-service ones nor the ones in the manned ticket office - so I was told (by Robert - always wise to clock people's name badges for added verisimilitude!) to get on the train with my paper confirmation of an online purchase and explain to the guard what had happened. Everyone who got on at Stafford would at least be telling a consistent story. ;)

The next apparent hitch in my journey - albeit not technically a technical one - was the fact that from Atherstone onwards I was hemmed in on all sides by six young mothers from Birmingham. Or at least five, because Whitney didn't look particularly motherly to my untrained eye. For two and a half hours I listened to them all talking about social media, their children's behaviour, other children's behaviour towards them (some of it involving sticks), their childrens' ailments and accidents, their pregnancies with their children, their husbands and partners, their parents' taste in music / dancing styles(!), their lust for a particular pair of shoes, make up bargains, the selection of T-shirts in Peacocks (with and without glitter), their jobs in various shops, and much more besides. The roll call of children whose names I caught were: Darcy and Poppy, Connor and Cody, and Willow and Brandon. I thought they were really going to bother me, talking so animatedly the whole way there, but I ended up being completely engrossed - I think I must be genuinely curious about other people, or should that be merely nosy? ;) At one point we all burst out laughing, when the woman opposite me (Emily, mother of Connor and Cody), inquired: 'What's the word for school?' She meant 'Academy', but everyone (me included!) simultaneously blurted out: 'School!'

Source: Birmingham Mail

Speaking of children, at every station there was the same announcement: "Please step onto the platform first before taking the pushchair off backwards." I must have heard it half a dozen times, and wondered how much practical benefit results from the advice in terms of parents correctly alighting from trains with their buggies, versus all the other passengers being irritated by its constant repetition. None of my mothers had their children with them, for example - why, that was the whole point of their trip to London - to have a nice lunch and some drinks, take in a show, and be unencumbered by kids for a day.

The next (actual!) technical hitch was the train being delayed due to something that was euphemistically described as 'an obstruction' and 'an issue' - in a tunnel just beyond Rugby. Obviously, everyone in our carriage immediately started thinking the issue and obstruction might in fact be a 'person'. We had to go via Northampton, but didn't stop there thankfully, and ended up with half an hour's delay, such that I was only ten minutes late for the brunch.

Are you ever going to get to this perfumista meet-up, or what??!!

Source: Tripadvisor

Coming, coming!
Yes, so as you can imagine, I was pretty socialised out when I finally got to Euston, three hours after I set off, and with the whole day still ahead of me(!). The group of eight of us was truly cosmopolitan: three people from Austria, only one of whom was Austrian born and bred (Val's daughter, Hannah), while Val is from everywhere as we know, and Lady Jane Grey is from Hungary/Slovakia, but lives in Vienna (with her French husband, to add a further international twist). Then there was that fumehead fulcrum of Facebook, the spectacularly globe-trotting Margo (who is from Poland), Lucy of Indieperfumes, who lives in New York, Megan - from Sainte Maxime (there's a clue in her blog name!) - and who is in fact a Kiwi, hehe - and Tara from London! (Her report on the day's events may be found here.)

The brunch when it came was very good - I would cheerfully have eaten pretty much anything anyone else had ordered, but opted for a vegetable burrito, on the basis that it was the most 'labour-intensive' dish on the menu, which I would never attempt to replicate at home.

'Al fresco' diners

I did have an 'issue' with my tea, mind. It tasted of onion, improbable as that may sound. Realistically it might just have been that limescale-y taste you get with water from the bottom of a kettle, but onion was the first thing that sprang to mind. I passed my mug round the assembled company, and of the three people who tried it, one thought it tasted funny in a non-specific way, one thought it was fine (admittedly a coffee drinker ;) ), and one agreed with me on the onion. So a slight majority found in my favour, which was enough to embolden me to complain about the tea and elicit a replacement. The next mug proved to be an altogether different kettle of fish (though happily not tasting of it!).

It was predictably great - and slightly surreal - to be there. I had met everybody before except Megan and Margo (I clearly need to work on my 'M's). People had strewn the table with samples of every stripe. To be perfectly honest, I was only interested in the new Hermessence samples, of which Val had a full set. She kindly gave me sample vials of Cèdre Sambac and Myrrhe Églantine (with its gratuitous accent on the capital 'E', which, contrary to my usual contrariness, I have faithfully reproduced, as I like it so much!). I have been wearing both on rotation ever since, indeed I just bought a travel spray of the latter on a Facebook group - yup, me who swore blind she wouldn't ever buy perfume again! Though it is quite small, and will get used if the rate at which Val's sample is going down is anything to go by.

 After brunch, I peeled off with Lady Jane Grey, while the others went straight to Bloom in Covent Garden. At this plateau stage in my perfume j*****y I find myself more excited by a high quality craft market than the prospect of sniffing random unknown things in a shop. I did buy an upcycled silk pencil case from a lovely Japanese lady, and thoroughly enjoyed catching up on LJG's news and generally having a mosey round the market. The craft stalls seemed to have shrunk though, while the food stalls have mushroomed exponentially since I was there last. And the whole enterprise has become way more commercial and slick. But the craft side of things still had the wow factor for me, and offered much richer present pickings than anything I could have found at home.

I was given a scarf from here - the red one, bottom left! 

After about an hour, we joined the rest of our party at Bloom, where they were still going strong! I only popped my head inside, as I find the ever-changing system of bottle organisation quite impenetrable, and the shop also a little on the dark side for my liking. But mostly I need a friend to quite literally press a clutch of samples into my palm and say: 'You are soooo gonna love these, V', before I can be seduced into trying something new. And Val is very good at doing just that.

While in the alley, Val presented me with another little friendship bracelet, to add to the one she gave me in Augsburg the last time we met. You see, Val, Tara and I have a bit of a three way conversation group (aka 'coven' / 'triumvirate') going on on Messenger, and V figured it could be a kind of symbolic uniform for us - you know, like boy scout neckerchiefs in the same colour. Only we got to choose different colours, hehe. I happened to have first pick, and went for one in a sort of bluey grey, while Tara chose peach and Val got the remaining blue one by default. But the bracelets are otherwise identical, with tiny copper pieces all the way along the cord.

Source: Wikipedia

After Bloom, we went en masse to a branch of The Forbidden Planet, which Wikipedia describes as 'the world's largest and best-known science fiction, fantasy and cult entertainment retailer'. Val specifically wanted to go there to buy a poster for her gym trainer back in Austria, and quickly found one he would like of Batman. The shop was crammed with merchandise of every kind to do with sci-fi and fantasy films, comics and books etc. I gazed in awe at the cabinets full of figurines of monsters and robots and dinosaurs and Manga women fighters with preposterous physiques and I don't know what else, and also marvelled at the fact that there was absolutely nothing I would wish to buy in here, however long I spent combing the fixtures. While standing in the store, somewhere between scarily be-logo'ed T-shirts and tin tardises, I had an incongruous conversation with Lucy about our respective skincare regimes, in which she sang the praises of The Ordinary. Looking at her completely unlined complexion, I couldn't help but agree.

Next up, we made our way back to Covent Garden, where there was a half-hearted and abortive attempt to buy ice creams (the queues!!). Instead, we ended up fleetingly refuelling in Starbucks with an assortment of beverages before heading off to our next destinations - in my case the station, while the others were going to change and rest up before the awards ceremony with its intriguing dress code of 'bohemian cocktail', which I for one would much rather drink than wear.

I am pleased to report that there were no further train related incidents on the way home. I had had quite enough fun and excitement for one day!


Undina said...

Sounds like fun (though tiresome) day. As much as I am curious about random people's life, when it comes to the topic of kids I loose interest within the first 5 minutes - even when those are my friends talking about kids. So I would probably use headphones in such situation.

I still have to get to the store that carries Hermessence to try these perfumes, about which everyone raves. I almost did it two weeks ago but I didn't realize the store was closing earlier so I left the visit till the end of the shopping trip and was disappointed to find the closed door.

Bloom was my least favorite store out of all I visited while in London (most of them with you :) ), but still I would take sniffing through their offerings any time over visiting anything craft-related (though I wouldn't mind it on its own). I wonder: do any of perfumistas who go there ever buy anything? I'm afraid they'll start banning us out of small stores soon :)

Sarah Waite said...

Hi Vanessa,
I love your photo of the electrical goods shop cats. Do you reckon they spend all night ironing, hoovering and performing other electrical machine activities? I hope the lovely black one at the front is licking himself and not the window. If so, I fear for his wellbeing.
I love that Hermes Cedre Sambac. The other new ones left me deeply underwhelmed.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

That's funny that your curiosity is curtailed when it comes to people's kids. I was surprised to find mine ran and ran pretty much regardless of the topic!

Ah, too bad about missing the opening hours of the Hermes store. I am sure you will catch up with the new additions soon and I shall be most interested to hear what you make of them.

I think you are still much more interested in sniffing generally than me, whereas I really do have to be cajoled into trying things these days. I wasn't in Bloom long enough to know if anyone bought anything, though I think it possible, given our particular group - there are one or two of us still in buying/collecting mode. But otherwise I could see a ban coming along one day, yes!

Vanessa said...

Hi Sarah,

I would have thought the Pickup cats spend all of the night as they spend most of the days ie sleeping, hehe, though they clearly pause to wash. Pretty sure that black one was washing itself, though the picture is deceiving all right! I think they draw customers by their very presence, without having to earn their keep in more complicated ways.

Oh, I am sorry you didn't care for the others in the Hermessence range. I think I liked them all! Or all the ones I tried. And I am usually quite picky. ;)

Megan In Sainte Maxime said...

Hi Vanessa, so nice to meet you even if briefly. The Hermessence oils were lovely but rather spendy but the new Hermes were definitely what I was most interested in too. Covent Garden was way too hectic for me in the weekend - must remember to avoid in the future. ��

Tara said...

Hey V,
Finally got to this lovely post after more of my own perfume-related travels. Really happy you made all that effort to come down. I never thought about choosing from a menu based on the level of labour intensity - good thinking!
Why are they called Pickup cats? Am I being dense?
Thanks for the linkage!

Vanessa said...

Hi Megan,

Lovely to meet you too at last! I quite agree about the pricy Hermessence oils, though I really liked that Cardamusc one. The others were more affordable and also great - my travel spray of Myrrhe Eglantine is on its way to me, and it takes a lot to make me buy fresh perfume these days, even in small quantities!

Oh gosh yes, wasn't Covent Garden heaving? No ice cream was worth that kind of wait.

Vanessa said...

Hey Tara,

You have been doing a lot of perfume related travel - I was quite tired from my one day in London, haha - but I tell myself you are younger. There again, Val is my age and look at her go! I guess I need to go to the gym to keep my energy levels up. I look forward to reading about your latest weekend of sniffing and socialising!

Ah, the shop is called Pickups, sorry to be so obscure. ;)