Friday 22 June 2018

Penhaligon's Orange Blossom: a tale of perfume, friendship, and the longest journey

I am all too mindful that I am overdue to blog again, even allowing for my more relaxed posting schedule these days...well, if I ever had a schedule, which is moot. I have at least half a dozen post ideas in the pipeline, but I don't feel like writing any of them. The simple fact of the matter is that a close friend (whom I will call 'M', with this being a public forum) died on Saturday, and she is still very much on my mind. Despite the exceptionally personal nature of this post, I realised that it would help me to process her sad loss by talking about it here, just as I am doing in private conversations with friends. Otherwise it could be a long time before I feel able to revert to my usual blogging topics - and tone.

Any readers who follow me on Facebook may already be aware of my friend's passing. I will copy across my tribute to her, to set the scene, as it were.

"What's on my mind?, asks Facebook. That's an easy one. The death of my friend M at the weekend, taken by cancer sooner than any of us thought. I had known M for many years, in different houses, relationships, and hair colours - on both sides. She came for Christmas several times, and it is my great regret that I only mastered the art of cooking an edible turkey after she turned vegetarian. Maybe because of that(!), I will never know. She loved bright colours, plain speaking, and any cats which crossed her path. She favoured a particular type of mug, and a particular kind of tea. She was the life and soul of craft nights, and often turned up unprompted with the makings of supper. She was a force of nature with a beautiful voice, a big heart, and an indomitable spirit, which will always be very much with us."

And here is one which also struck a chord, from another good friend, who hosted the craft session pictured below:

"Remembering and missing this unique, bold, compassionate, crazy, courageous, creative and generous soul. Without M I would be the poorer for so many laughs, tears, insights, experiences, places and wonderful people. She made things happen and made an impact on everyone. Those ripples, the memories and the connections between us that exist because of her, cannot be erased and will carry on through all of us."

A particularly messy craft night!

The last time I saw my friend in her flat - too poorly to be on her own at home really, and indeed it was soon after that that she admitted herself to a hospice - we had a long chat, in which she asked me to tell her all about my news: 'I don't want to talk about being ill.' I had made the food she had asked for and put it away in the fridge and freezer, though as I did so I wondered whether she would ever manage to interact with it. After about 45 minutes, she declared herself too tired to talk anymore, and I took that as my cue to go. As I bent over to kiss her goodbye, she exclaimed: 'Oooh, you smell nice!" and I explained that it was Penhaligon's Orange Blossom.

The last time I saw my friend in life was last Friday, at the wonderful hospice in a neighbouring town. At Val the Cookie Queen's suggestion, I took along a bottle of sparkling fruit drink - fizz being more palatable than flat, Val said - and when M felt strong enough to sit up for a bit we shared a plastic cup or two of that. I set the bottle of Orange Blossom down on the table by her bed, saying that this was the perfume she had liked, and perhaps she could have a spritz on her bedding or sniff it on an amenable nurse. I didn't realise at the time, but in hindsight I think my aromatherapy ideas came a bit late to be acted on. Not long afterwards, the doctor made her round, and I stayed at M's request while they had a difficult and moving conversation about her palliative care arrangements. After about an hour and a half I left - the next visitor had already arrived.

That evening, I spent several hours ringing all the friends of M's I could think of, urging them to get on over to the hospice as a matter of urgency if they wished to see her. Quite a few had no idea how gravely ill she had become in such a short space of time. I also planned to visit M again on the Saturday morning, but it was the first visitor - one of the people I had contacted in my address book blitz - who arrived really early, and happened to be there at the end. I was sorry not to have made it myself, but far, far more important was the fact that somebody did. And the bottle of scent was in the room too, its little bow at a crazy skew-wiff angle like wings reaching skywards. I know that an inanimate object is a very poor substitute for human company, but I was strangely comforted by the thought that it had been by M's side in the night. Her last visitor had in fact puzzled over whose bottle it was, as M herself did not wear scent.

I did go back later that day, and noticed that the perfume bottle had gone, presumed tidied up by a nurse. Then last Wednesday it made a surprise reappearance. M's brother and SIL - who lived far away and like most of us, had been caught short by M's sudden passing - had invited a few close friends of M's to the flat to pick out one or two keepsakes from her belongings. A number of musicial instruments found homes, including a guitar, an accordion, a hammer dulcimer, a boran, and a tin whistle. One of the girls from our craft circle had M's sewing machine, another the Nutribullet, and various pot plants and soft toys were also safely and lovingly rehomed. I opted for some crockery, including a whimsical teapot, and a subset of M's enormous wool stash. We had even spoken on that last afternoon of a brand we both discovered we owned - M had asked which colours I had and told me hers. And now, a week on, the wool is here in my house...

M's cup, my saucer - a perfect match

On a side note, I would love this to happen when my time comes...the thought of friends giving a new life to some of my belongings is frankly heartwarming. I would feel as though - in a small way - a part of me was going on to be part of the fabric of their lives. And goodness knows I have a lot of perfume to give away! Which brings me back to the Orange Blossom. M's SIL suddenly produced it out of a bag and held it aloft, inquiring: 'Did somebody want this?' So I claimed it immediately, explaining that it was in fact mine, and that I would very much like to wear it to the funeral. A sunny, uplifting scent, to complement the brightly coloured clothes we know M would wish us to wear. Here is my review of the perfume for anyone who might be curious.

M is having a woodland burial in a plot near her home. She will be singing several of her own compositions at the service(!), very likely including this rather apt track, These Fields Again.

Rest in peace, M; thank you for the music - and in the words of another of your songs, consider yourself well and truly wrapped in 'invisible string', such that you will never 'float away'. Or maybe we should make that wool...?

Monday 11 June 2018

A spritz up the backside (not literally!): perfume as personal trainer, and my hairy brush with the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon

Same hall, different class! ~ Source: SLogan Fitness
I have read a few blog posts on the theme of 'perfume for the gym/workout', which usually take a matter-of-fact line, as though we were merely talking about choosing a scent for an evening out or for the office, ie a perfectly normal activity. So although this post treats the same topic, I am coming at it from a different standpoint. Because the fact is, I hate exercise. There, I said it. Shoot and defriend me now if you must!

Hmm, not so fast...I should perhaps qualify that statement slightly. I dread the thought of doing exercise, I don't enjoy doing it at the time - unless we are talking a country walk, say, but I invariably can't be a**ed to drive to the country - but I just LOVE the feeling afterwards, whether it is the floaty one you get from yoga or a generalised rush of euphoria from jogging. For the most part though, the enjoyment of the aftermath doesn't weigh heavily enough in the equation to overrule the kiboshing effects of the before and during feelings on my healthy intentions. Which is not to say that exercise doesn't get done by me in fits and starts here and there - I am a great believer in 'incidental exercise' as well as what the lovely Doctor in the House calls 'movement snacking'. How great is that expression!?! Now I am well aware that this is not enough on its own and that we all need (increasingly so as you age) a judicious combination of exercise of each of the four types: Cardio, Strength, Flexibility and Balance. These are all so important I have gone and given them capitals.

Source: Aroma M Perfumes

I do attend a yoga class on a Saturday morning, though I must confess I missed the last five weeks(!), due to a compellingly plausible excuse combination of weekends away and bad ears. Astonishingly I made it back this Saturday and it wasn't nearly as impossible as I feared. And on a whim, I sprayed Aroma M's Geisha Vanilla Hinoki before heading out, though I don't normally wear perfume when exercising. It turns out that I reviewed this scent almost two years ago to the day, and when I put it on before yoga its calming, faintly fougere vibe of vanilla and lavender, coupled with the sprightly opening burst of bergamot and the grounding incense and patchouli accord had rather surprising effects. For I felt much more motivated about being in the class while I was there, and a little less reluctant to go in the first place! There is a term 'resistance training' which is the same as our 'Strength' category and includes weight lifting and the like. Me, I need training to stop me resisting resistance training!...or frankly any kind of training indeed. ;)

But yes, in my discreet cloud of Vanilla Hinoki, the difference in my mood was really quite marked. I have no idea whether it would work equally well with any perfume I liked, but I sense Vanilla Hinoki teams up particularly well with the zen-like state yoga induces. Of course all exercise is ultimately relaxing for the body - and mind - but this one really hit the spot, no question, and was elevated to the level of aromatherapy in a sporting context.

In a strange postscript to the above, this unexpected bout of exercise was followed the very next day by more physical jerks(!), most unusually for a Sunday. A knitting chum called Felicity had kindly invited me and another friend as her guests on a spa day at Hoar Cross Hall, of which she was a full-time member. Obviously I jumped at the chance to spend some quality time with the pair of them, while swanning around grand surroundings in a fluffy robe. 'Swan' being the operative word on account of the garment's whiteness. 

Ghostly robed figure disappearing down The Long Gallery

Unfortunately, the day that suited us all for this three-way meet up happened to coincide with the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon - one of several such extreme endurance events being held across the world yesterday. Many of the main - and even minor - roads in the county were to be closed till early afternoon, and planning an alternative route was strongly advised.

Source: Express & Star

The other friend who was joining us never made it sadly, having spent many hours going precisely nowhere, before finally being turned back by a policeman somewhere near Rugeley. She had only gone twelve miles from home in all that time. Her hugely frustrating experience showed that you really needed to use an OS and Ironman road closure map in tandem to have any hope of figuring out a route - there were so many conflicting diversion signs on the ground that you would be sure to be trapped in endless Kafkaesque loops, as she was. The council really hadn't thought through the impact of their diversion signs, which were so numerous, and which referred to so many different (unspecified) routes, as to be of absolutely no use whatsoever. 

I had called the race hotline and enlisted their help to plot a route, yet I still managed to have a highly hairy drive even so. The road the organisers recommended was also closed(!), though it was in fact passable at a crossing point - which I knew in principle, but suddenly doubted. After a fruitless twenty minutes being catapulted between diversion signs in Uttoxeter like a ball in a bagatelle, I decided to override the closed sign and see what gave(!). Sure enough, after a couple of miles the crossing place and two marshals with bollards hove into view - they doubtless wanted to discourage casual passing traffic. I suppose that otherwise they could have spent the entire race shifting bollards like demented lollipop men. At the same time it was a bit naughty, as I genuinely thought for a moment that I couldn't go the way they said after all, and might so easily have given up myself at that point.


Getting across the cyclists' path was just the start of it though! I also nearly killed a dog that chased, and then ran out in front of the car; several 4 x 4s ran me into a ditch, and I narrowly escaped being rammed by a tractor as tall as a house as it careered round a bend, driven by a child. These were hands down the narrowest roads I have ever driven up/down, and I was in constant fear of meeting someone. With good reason as it turned out.

And so between the white knuckle drive, the yoga class I attended at the spa when I finally got there (two classes in as many days, hehe), and the 60 lengths of the admittedly half length pool...why, I virtually did a triathlon myself! Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration...

This wasn't the pool I swam in.

And I am very much hoping that Vanilla Hinoki has given me the metaphorical 'spritz up the backside' I need to get me exercising more regularly. Time will tell, but it has certainly given me a leg up for now.

Ooh, speaking of legs up, I am sure that girl was in my yoga class. I don't think I am good enough at holding the poses, mind, to ever end up covered in lichen.

Monday 4 June 2018

GDPR, Diptyque and me: do I finally get to leave Hotel California?

Source: Los Cabos guide
Firstly, apologies for the posting hiatus, which is mainly due to a pesky ongoing issue with blocked and infected ears. You really don't want to know the details, but my Britney Spears(!) are somewhat better at the moment than last week, and my brain less foggy and generally discombobulated, so I figured I was up to doing a blog post today.

So...the deadline for compliance with GDPR legislation has been and gone on what would have been my mother's 98th birthday. She isn't around anymore, but my aunt very much is, and turned 98 a few days ago! She is the granddaughter of the Salome Musson pictured at the top of my review of Papillon Perfumes Salome here. Gosh, that was a bit of a digression, sorry. Back to our legislative muttons. For anyone outside the EU, here is the lowdown:

"The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679 is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA)...The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU."

And of course we are not due to stay in the EU for much longer, but right now we still come under its jurisdiction, so businesses need to get with the programme. I mention it, because the tentacles of this legislation are quite far reaching, and I know of at least one perfume blogger who has added a 'plug in' - no not a Glade room freshener as was my first thought, but some kind of gadget that acts as a shortcut to her privacy policy...or I suppose that's what it does? I asked her why she thought to do that, and she explained that she has a list of subscribers to her blog and thought the legislation might cover the act of sending automatic notifications of posts to readers who had given their emails for that purpose before the law came into effect.

Then I found this helpful titbit on the website of a digital event marketing company(!):

"In simple terms, you need to get explicit permission from your EU email database to email them after the 25th of May 2018, once GDPR takes effect. The process of going to a list or email database to establish opt-ins is called ‘permission passing’."

"Permission passing", ooh er? Sounds a bit 'Derren Brown sleight of hand-ish' to me, but that may be my cynical mind...It is ringing a bell though, as I heard something about all this on You and Yours on R4, in which they featured an association of allotment holders, who found themselves improbably affected by the new rules. They had a database of members you see, and in order to be able to contact them about anything it seems, they needed their express, opt-in permission.

Allotments near my house ~ Source: wrmcomputers

All of which set me pondering, as I have done precisely nothing about the matter. Well, there's been my ears for one thing, says she defensively, then I also have no access to my subscriber base, ie readers who follow by email. I am not assuming they are necessarily the same people as the mosaic of followers in the sidebar of my blog, though maybe they are! But I don't know the emails of those people anyway, unless they have provided a link to some site of their own. So I am pretty sure I am off the hook, perhaps due to the very non-functionality of Blogger versus Wordpress, haha, of which I complain periodically on various grounds!

Then on a personal level, I have basically been ignoring the blizzard of emails from providers of every stripe asking me to 'accept cookies', 'update my preferences' and 'manage my privacy settings'. Life's too short to stuff mushrooms or manage my settings, though I may be being horribly shortsighted. If you have to explicitly opt in to allow them to contact you in future, and I am not deigning to reply, surely this means that the companies I have once had dealings with - often very tenuous or one off dealings - will have to go away now? Hmm, unless the emails are worded with what my old boss used to call 'an assumptive close', where the opt-in is assumed to be your default preference precisely IF you ignore the email! Oh, I don't know... I have just found the torrent of communications on this subject so wearing. I guess I could go and change my settings on a case-by-case basis if stuff keeps coming and really bothers me, as I did with Diptyque indeed...

Yes, you may remember this post from last September on the subject of Diptyque and their annoyingly frequent marketing emails. Boy, did they keep coming, despite my repeatedly clicking on the unsubscribe link, all to no avail. Then I finally found out why my endeavours were in vain:

"While the emails were coming to my correct address, the pop up asking me to confirm that I wanted my email to be removed from their list referred to an address that was not mine!

It was!! WTF??"

So seconds later, I dashed off an email to Diptyque's general address explaining what was going on, and asking them to additionally remove my blog address - flittersniffer at gmail dot com - for good measure. And that finally seems to have done the trick."

I should have gone back and updated that post really, because it didn't do the trick at all!! After a short delay while the company regrouped, the emails kept arriving as before. And then, in the run up to the GDPR deadline, I received two more in fairly quick succession, both along these rather wheedling lines!

Yes, I do mean to say goodbye! And how...;)

Which obviously I have also ignored.

And fingers crossed that it is an active opt-in scenario, not a 'we have sneaked your opt-in into a prepared statement that gives us your tacit consent even in the event of non-response' one.

How is GDPR affecting you - as a business or a punter - or a reader of perfume blogs indeed? 

Are you engaging with your settings, for example? You are a braver person than me in that case.

Never mind privacy ones, the vast majority of the settings on my phone, PC, TV and toaster are also a complete mystery, come to think of it...